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Japan wins women’s ice hockey gold medal for first time

25 Feb 2017
Sapporo, Japan, February 25, 2017: Japan ended more than two decades of frustrating near-misses by finally capturing an elusive gold medal in the women’s ice hockey competition at the Asian Winter Games. Women’s ice hockey has been played at the Asian Winter Games five times before and Japan had agonisingly finished runner-up at each of the previous editions, stretching back to 1996.

But this time, the team nicknamed “Smile Japan”, finally climbed to the top of the podium to collect the gold after finishing the six-nation round-robin tournament undefeated, signing off with an emphatic 6-1 win over China. China, gold medallists in 1996 and 1999, won the silver medal this time, finishing runner-up to Japan with three wins and two losses.

The bronze medal went to Kazakhstan, who had won the gold at the last three Asian Winter Games in 2003, 2007 and 2011. Kazakhstan sealed third place by beating Thailand 8-0 in its last pool game. South Korea finished fourth, ending the tournament with a confidence-boosting 14-0 shutout of Hong Kong before hosting the Winter Olympics next year.

Ranked seventh in the world, Japan went into the competition as heavy favourites  and brimming with confidence after recently securing their qualifying place at Pyeongchang. They began confidently, beating Kazakhstan 6-0 then Korea 3-0 before giving a stunning demonstration of their sublime skills with a record-smashing 46-0 win against Hong Kong followed by a 37-0 defeat of Thailand.

Hong Kong and Thailand were competing in the tournament for the first time as they try to develop the sport in their homelands. With China able to win the gold if they beat Japan, the host-nation took no chances, banging in five goals in 11 minutes in the opening period at the Tsukisamu Gymnasium, one of the hockey venues when Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972.

Fittingly, Japan’s 34-year-old forward Hanae Kubo opening the scoring in the ninth minute then Naho Terashima and Yurie  Adachi netted, prompting China to pull their starting goalie He Siye. Wang Yuqing took over in China’s net but there was no let up from Japan as Aina Takeuchi and Rui Ukita quickly scored to make it 5-0.

Japan, playing a high tempo game and utilising its faster skaters and precise passing, were never in any real danger of losing after opening up a five goal lead but a rare lapse in concentration blotted their perfect defensive record. Japan had not given up a single goal in its four previous games in the tournament but China managed to score a power play goal early in the second.

Ukita was penalised for hooking and China made the most of their one-player advantage as Fang Xin snuck one past Japanese netminder Nana Fujimoto, who had spent a year playing for the New York Riveters in the National Women's Hockey League. Wang successfully held Japan at bay for the rest of the second period to go into the final period trailing 5-1 but any hopes of a comeback were quickly extinguished when Kubo buried the puck into the net at the start of the third for Japan’s 98th and final goal of the tournament.
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