By James Armstrong

With a hat trick in her team’s 6-1 win over Austria in the Final Olympic Qualification Group D, Hanae Kubo solidified her place as Japan’s top player.

The 34-year-old native of Tomakomai, Hokkaido, now has 32 goals and 62 points in 63 games since her first call-up to the national team way back in 1999.

Kubo was a member of the Japan team that surprised many by qualifying for the Sochi Olympics with a 5-0 win over Denmark.

As happy as she and her team mates were to make their second Olympic appearance, the end result of five losses in Sochi was not easy to take.

Kubo scored one goal and added two assists in Sochi. The veteran forward is now leading her team’s efforts to qualify for the Pyeongchang Games and a chance for some redemption.

“I wasn’t able to give 100 percent in Sochi and you can only make up for that at the Olympics,” Kubo said after her three-goal performance in her home town. “I want to make sure we win and book our tickets here.”

Japan will play France on Saturday before wrapping up the tournament against Germany on Sunday. Germany beat France 3-2 in its first game. Only the winner of Group D will qualify for Pyeongchang.

Japan, which will be bidding for its third Olympic berth following Nagano and Sochi, has been making steady progress and is currently seventh in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking.

The team is coached by Takeshi Yamanaka, who played for Japan’s men’s team at the Nagano Olympics.

Yamanaka has built a team that takes advantage of speed and fitness and so far the strategy is paying off.

“We feel we have the ability to win all three games here if we play to our strengths,” Yamanaka said.

Eight teams will play in the women’s tournament in Pyeongchang. The United States, Canada, Russian, Sweden and Finland have already qualified along with South Korea which earns a spot as the host nation.