OTTAWA, ON – The women’s ice hockey Gold Medal Game at the FISU Winter World University Games is set. Japan and Canada will meet tomorrow night at 8:35 p.m. ET with a gold medal on the line.
Japan controlled their semifinal game from start to finish en route to a huge 3-0 win against the Czech Republic. Japan outshot their opponent 30-14, spent the majority of the game in the attacking zone, and dominated in the faceoff circle which helped Japan sustain possession and create many scoring chances.
After a strong start defensively by both teams which saw each goaltender make several crucial saves to keep the game a scoreless draw, forward Mei Sakurai gave Japan a 1-0 lead late in the first period after a nice tick-tac-toe play found her open in the high slot for a one-timer.
Japan built on its lead early in the second period on the powerplay after Yoshino Enomoto controlled a long stretch pass from teammate Shiroi Yamashita before juking around a defender and slipping it past Czech Republic goaltender Katerina Zechovska. Enomoto (one goal, one assist) and Yamashita (two assists) were the heroes for Japan, each recording two points.
Japan defended well, taking away their opponents’ passing and shooting lanes while preventing the Czech Republic from creating sustained attacks in the offensive zone. Japan created several turnovers in the defensive end and the neutral zone which led to many scoring chances in transition.
Japan’s offensive barrage of shots on goal and scoring chances continued late into the second period and early into the third period and the Czech Republic’s defence was showing signs of fatigue close nearing the midway point of the third period which is when forward Remi Koyama’s accurate wrist shot made it 3-0.
Japan goaltender Miyuu Masuhara played well all game, making 14 saves to secure the shutout win. She made a handful of big saves early in the first period to keep it 0-0 and late in the third to preserve her team’s 3-0 lead.
Japan is brimming with confidence after the victory but will now face their toughest test yet against a very talented Canadian team who scored six unanswered goals in the final 40 minutes of their semifinal against Slovakia to secure a comfortable 6-1 win.
Canada also defeated Japan 6-0 in their Jan. 15 round-robin game thanks in part to a dominant second period that saw Canada score four goals.
Japan is a very balanced hockey team with talent at all positions on both ends of the ice. They are smart, don’t make many mistakes, are fast and physical, defend very well, move the puck with ease, forecheck well, create turnovers, and get pucks to the net efficiently to create scoring chances, especially from loose rebounds from in the slot or on the doorstep.
However, they will have their hands full with an even stronger Canadian team who are very fast and physical, defend extremely well, seem to win every loose puck battle, and can move the puck extremely efficiently to create open shooting lanes, scoring chances, and shots on goal from dangerous areas.
Canada was the best team in the preliminary round; they finished first in the group after winning all five of their games with a goal difference of +29. Canada scored 31 and only conceded two times in five round-robin games. That is a testament to how strong they are defensively and how well all of their goaltenders, particularly Kendra Woodland have played.
Canada’s strong attack is tough for any defence to contain. Once Canada’s offence gets going, it tends to go on runs where they spend a lot of time in the attacking zone, get a ton of scoring chances and shots on goal, and often score goals in bunches. Canada has scored three or more goals in four different periods and has scored five or more goals in a single period twice, both against Great Britain.
However, if Japan plays as well defensively against Canada as it did against the Czech Republic and uses its great playmaking and puck movement to create scoring chances while limiting Canada’s offensive zone time, Japan can play its game.
The key to victory for Japan will be to play physically and defend relentlessly to prevent Canada’s offence from getting going and spending prolonged periods in the attacking zone. If Japan can control the possession, it gives Canada less time to set up its offence while allowing Japan to create several of their own scoring chances. Japan will also need to block shots, take away passing lanes and create turnovers and attack Canada in transition.
The key to victory for Canada will be to play strong defence, get off to a fast start, control the possession and spend the majority of the game in the attacking zone, wear down Japan’s defence with their speed and puck movement and continuously create scoring chances. Once they score, they cannot take their foot off the gas, they have to keep pressing offensively.
Both teams are talented, well-coached, and have a chance to win, but either way, one athlete from the Guelph Gryphons’ women’s hockey team will go home a gold medal winner, with Chirio Suzuki representing Japan and Hannah Tait representing Canada.