By Jack Gallagher – IIHF.com
Japan – Japan’s march to the gold medal at the Asian Winter Games culminated with a solid 6-1 victory over China in the final on Friday night at Tsukisamu Gymnasium. China had to settle for the silver medals, Kazakhstan won bronze.
Despite the triumph, Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka still wants to see more from his team that earlier this month earned qualification to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“Our defence was very good in the tournament, but the offence needs to progress some more,” Yamanaka stated after watching his side surrender just one goal in five games.
Japan scored lopsided wins over Hong Kong (46-0) and Thailand (37-0), and notched shutout decisions over Kazakhstan (6-0) and Korea (3-0) in the six-team women’s ice hockey tournament.
Japan’s next event will be at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Graz, Austria, in April where the team aims at promotion back to the top division of the Women’s Worlds.
Yamanaka says he is not set on his current roster as the team he will take to the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018.
“I want to see some more players in competition before deciding on the roster,” Yamanaka commented, while adding that team will likely be set in late November or December.
Yamanaka, though happy his team captured the gold on home ice, explained why he was not totally satisfied with these results.
“As the top team there should be a bigger gap (in points) between us and the others,” he said. “We kept our opponents’ point totals to less than 10 in Europe as well.”
Japan’s high-powered attack blitzed China in the opening period for five goals and never looked back on Saturday.
Star forward Hanae Kubo had two goals for Japan in the win. Naho Terashima, Yurie Adachi, Aina Takeuchi and Rui Ukita also scored in the triumph in front of 1,807 fans.
China came into the contest with a 3-1 record. China beat Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and Thailand, but lost to Korea in a shootout.
Fang Xin scored the lone goal against Japan in the tournament on a slap shot in the second period.
Kazakhstan with a 3-2 record took home the bronze medal in the competition after an 8-0 rout of Thailand earlier on Saturday. The Kazakhs earlier edged fourth-ranked Korea 1-0 to move to a medal spot.
China coach Richard Seeley paid tribute to Japan following the final.
“They’re a hard-working, well-conditioned team that plays together,” Seeley said. “It is clear that they were in better condition. This was a good experience for our girls. They can see that to play five games in seven days you have to be in better shape.”
Seeley believes Japan has a real chance at making the podium next year in Korea.
“The U.S. and Canada are the favourites for the gold and silver in PyeongChang, but I think Japan has a chance to get the bronze medal there,” Seeley commented. “The gap is closing now.”
Japan defender Akane Hosoyamada felt she and her teammates did a good job of protecting their net the past week.
“I got a lot of chances in the tournament, but could only put a few in the net,” said Hosoyamada. “We were able to keep the puck in the offensive end most of the time (during the tournament). We have had like three total shots on our net in the last four games, so I thought that was good for us, blocking shots and all that stuff.”
Hosoyamada thinks the vibe in the Japan team is good coming off their victory in the qualifying tournament for PyeongChang earlier this month and win here.
“We were coming out of the qualifiers and have been together for a month and a half now,” she pointed out. “We’re basically family and like being around each other. All around it was a positive turnout.”
Kubo said Japan set the tone early in the final and smoothed the past to victory.
“We scored a lot of goals in the first period tonight, so we were able to set our own pace for the rest of the game,” Kubo stated.
Kubo admitted it was challenging to focus after coming out of the qualifying tournament in Tomakomai earlier this month.
“It was kind of hard to stay motivated with this coming right after the Olympic Qualification, but because we received a lot of support from the fans, we pushed hard to win for the country,” Kubo said.
“Our whole team believes we are at the level of possibly winning a medal in PyeongChang,” noted Kubo. “So we are aiming for that target and doing our best.”