International Ice Hockey Federation

Swiss back in quarters

Surprising Japanese lose first game

Published 31.03.2015 18:18 GMT+2 | Author Martin Merk
Swiss back in quarters
MALMO, SWEDEN - MARCH 31: Switzerland's Alina Muller #25 battles for the puck with Japan's Ami Nakamura #23 during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship. (Photo by Francois Laplante/HHOF-IIHF Images)
After a setback against Sweden, the Swiss women’s national team made it back to the quarter-finals thanks to a 3-0 win against Japan.

The bronze medallist from Sochi, seeded in the lower group due to its placing in the last Women’s Worlds, struggled but didn’t fall. With the victory against Japan, the Swiss women’s national team secured a top-two placing in Group B to reach the quarter-finals against the third- or fourth-ranked team of the “upper” group and will potentially face Finland or Russia.

Japan didn’t manage to score against Switzerland despite outshooting their opponent 36-26. The Japanese remain in contention but have to hope for a Swedish loss in the evening game against Germany to make the top-6 for the first time in history. Otherwise, they will have to play in the best-of-three relegation round against Germany.

It was a must-win game for Switzerland, which needed a regulation-time victory if they wanted to reach the quarter-finals on their own, while Japan needed one point to make the quarter-finals without being dependent on the outcome of the Germany-Sweden game.

“We knew that we had to win and luckily we were able to score the goal in the first period. We knew that we could beat them if we played solid defence and took few penalties. We were able to execute that and to capitalize on their mistakes,” said Anja Stiefel, who scored the second goal and had an assist on the first marker.

Being put on the spot, the Swiss tried to take the lead and succeeded on a goal from Alina Muller after having killed off two penalties. It was the first goal of the tournament for the forward who debuted at the Olympics last year as a 15-year-old. And it was a beautiful one having started behind the red line to deke three Japanese before netting the puck.

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“The first goal was essential. We lost an exhibition game against them and they beat Sweden. We knew that they would be a tough opponent which we could not underestimate, and that we shouldn’t concede a goal against them,” Stiefel added.

Japan tried to react and created more scoring opportunities than the Swiss. But at 10:03 of the second frame the Swiss made it 2-0. Coming out of the penalty box, Lara Stalder fed Stiefel with a horizontal pass and Stiefel brought the puck past Japan netminder Nana Fujimoto on the right side.

“Switzerland has a strong will,” Fujimoto said. “They really wanted to win and were maybe stronger than us.”

In this tight match-up it was also a game of two top goaltenders with Switzerland’s Florence Schelling as the MVP of the last Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament and Fujimoto as the goalie with the best save percentage (94.92%) after two games. But today it was Schelling’s day, as she earned a shutout with 36 saves.

“We had many chances and had a lot of opportunities on the power play but unfortunately we didn’t manage to score, that was the problem in tonight’s game. On the other side they scored twice after our mistakes,” Japan head coach Yoshifumi Fujisawa said.

Fujisawa pulled the goalie twice in the last two minutes to add extra pressure on the Swiss but it wasn’t rewarded as Phoebe Stanz scored the 3-0 goal into the empty net with 45 seconds left in the game.

“We really played well defensively compared to the game against Sweden. We knew that they play well on the power play but at 5-against-5 we were able to play well against them and also our box play was good,” Stiefel said.

And who does she wish to play in the quarter-finals?

“Actually, it doesn’t matter. We'll focus on our game and we'll take whoever comes,” Stiefel said.

The tournament continues tomorrow for both teams. Switzerland will move to Malmo Isstadion for the quarter-final. Last year in Sochi, Switzerland suffered a 4-3 overtime loss to Finland, but then beat Russia 2-0 in the quarter-finals en route to the bronze medal win.

Japan will know later tonight whether their next game tomorrow will be in the final round or in a relegation battle against the Germans, against whom they lost two games in Sochi. But this year Japan was the surprise team in the first two days of action, blanking Germany 2-0 on Sunday.