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2021 Worlds Quarterfinal Preview: USA vs. Japan

The USA will take on Japan in the quarterfinals for the second time in as many years.

United States v Switzerland: Group A - 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

Both teams are coming into the quarterfinals with somewhat of a chip on their shoulder as they contend with their respective 3-1 records in group play. For the United States, their only loss of the preliminary round came at the hands of their biggest rivals, Canada, while Japan’s only loss — and only goal-less game — came when they were shut out by the Czech Republic.

The Americans are going to have to have some serious discussions about their strategy moving forward after a devastating 5-1 loss to Canada to finish out the group stage. The squad can’t let their energy or their morale take any kind of hit, and have to work on their mindset and their game going into the quarterfinals.

Japan, on the other hand, finished off the group stage with a bang, defeating Germany to move into second place in Group B and secure their quarterfinal date with the United States. Their win was a bit of an upset, especially given Jennifer Harß’s extremely strong performance during the entirety of the preliminary round, and the going is only going to get tougher.

Key Story: 2019 Rewind

It’ll be the same story as it was at Worlds in 2019 — the United States and Japan meeting in the quarterfinals.

Last time these two teams met, the Americans shut out the Japanese by a score of 4-0, with Hilary Knight, Dani Cameranesi, Cayla Barnes, and Kendall Coyne Schofield all getting on the board. Despite the lopsided final score, Japanese goaltender Nana Fujimoto finished the game with a .924 save percentage, proving she was capable of withstanding the offensive onslaught that so characterizes much of the American style of play.

Looking ahead to tomorrow, the biggest jobs for Team Japan are going to be that of their squad’s blue liners and that of Fujimoto, who is all but guaranteed the starter role. It’s going to be tough to limit the United States’ shots on goal and stifle their offense, but with grit, determination, and inevitably, a whole lot of blocked shots, Japan can certainly make the game tough for their opponents.

USA’s Key Player: Grace Zumwinkle

Grace Zumwinkle has had herself a heck of a tournament so far.

Through the first four games of her first senior tournament, she sits at the top of the American leaderboard with two goals and two assists. One of those goals is the one pictured below, which broke the stalemate against the Finns and would ultimately end up as the game-winner as the Americans shut out Team Finland 3-0.

Zumwinkle is no stranger to coming up big in tight games either — just ask her teammates at Minnesota, or look back on her U18 career. In 2017, while wearing an A, she scored the game-winner in the gold medal game at the U18 tournament in Zlin. Throughout her collegiate career, she has 13 game-winners, including four as a senior captain in 2020-21.

Suffice to say, when the going gets tough, Zumwinkle shows up. And we should expect nothing less from her in Calgary.

Japan’s Key Player: Nana Fujimoto

Nana Fujimoto has been rock solid for Team Japan so far, and she’ll need to keep up that performance if Team Japan has any hope of withstanding the American offensive onslaught.

It’ll be a tight turnaround for Fujimoto should she get the nod in net (and she likely will) even with today’s built-in rest day, considering she’s started all four of Japan’s games in the group stage. Despite the rigorous schedule, Fujimoto has allowed just six goals throughout the tournament, and has proven herself as capable of hanging with the big dogs like Jenny Harß and Klara Peslarová.

Goaltending is without a doubt one of Japan’s greatest strengths, and since Japanese goaltending is synonymous with Nana Fujimoto, you can expect her to show up and impress against the Americans tomorrow.

How to Watch

TSN, NHL Network at 1:30 p.m. Mountain time, 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Statistics courtesy of the IIHF.