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2021 Worlds: Team Japan recap

A look back at their tournament

Japan’s Nana Fujimoto #1 makes the save while Aoi Shiga #3 looks on during placement round action against the Czech Republic at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship at WinSports Arena on August 29, 2021 in Calgary, AB Canada. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

How they finished

  • Record: 4-3
  • 6th place - their best finish ever

Japan came into Worlds ready, for Group B play at least. They opened play with a 1-0 win over Denmark. They fell to the Czech Republic next 0-4, before beating Hungary, 4-1, and Germany, 2-1. Their 3-1 record was good for second place in Group B meaning they’d meet the US in the semifinals, again.

Being realistic, even with the US’s struggles, Japan was never going to make it out of the quarterfinals. However, the game was still a historic one for them - Akane Shiga scored the first (and then the second) goal against the US in the history of the team. It was 10-2 blow out however.

The tournament wasn’t over for Japan; however, as they still have the placement games to play. The four teams who lost in the quarterfinal would play for fifth place and possible promotion to Group A. They first faced their Group B foe, Czech Republic, and avenged their preliminary play loss, winning 3-2. Next up was ROC for the right to move into Group A. They lost, 2-0, and will remain in Group B in 2023 (or possibly 2022...).

What went right

A true high point for Japan was their special teams, on both ends of the puck.

With the skater advantage, they scored five goals - tied for best in the tournament. Their power play conversion percentage was a 19.23 percent, only 1.6 percentage points behind the leader and 3.23 points ahead of the next best team. On the other side, they only gave up two goals while on the penalty kill despite committing 23 penalties over the seven games. Their PK percentage was 91.30, good for fourth best in the tournament.

What went wrong

Honestly, the biggest thing that went wrong for Japan wasn’t really anything they could have done differently, just the plain fact that they can’t compete with Group A teams yet. They proved they can handle Group B teams after only losing to Czech Republic in the preliminaries but then coming back to beat them in the placement game. Their two other loses came to Group A teams, and two longtime power houses in the game at that.

Of the 20 goals against the team had, 10 of them came against the US. That means they had 10 goals against in the other six games, which is not bad. It’ll be a while before they can compete with the likes of the US and Russia, excuse me ROC, but this was a solid showing for Japan.

What comes next

In short, the Olympics. Japan is ranked 6th in the World and has already qualified for the Games in February. It has to be a weigh off their shoulders and will allow them to focus on what they need to improve on rather than have to prepare for the qualification tournaments.

They’ll play in Group B against China and three to be determined teams, but there’s a good chance at least two will be their opponents from this tournament. Learning from Worlds will be key to Japan making another solid appearance in international play.

MVP(s)

Goaltender Nana Fujimoto - I know it seems strange to call a goalie who had 17 goals scored on them the team MVP, but she was a workhorse for the team. She played all but 30 minutes for the team, accounting for 93 percent of the ice time for Japanese goalies. Only one other goaltender saw more ice time than her - Klara Peslarova of the Czech Republic. Given Fujimoto’s high time in net, her save percentage of 90.86 and 2.62 goals against average isn’t terrible.

Forward Akane Shiga - We talked about Shiga a little bit already. She made history for the team with the first (and second) goal scored against the US ever in their quarterfinal matchup. She led the team in goals - 4 - and shots on goal - 28. This was the 20-year-old’s best showing with the senior team and proves that she’s part of the future of the team.