2024 Worlds Game Preview- USA vs Japan

Top-seeded Team USA takes on Japan tonight in the final quarterfinal matchup of the 2024 Worlds.

2024 Worlds Game Preview- USA vs Japan
Savannah Harmon battles Remi Koyama for the puck during a 2022 meeting. Photo courtesy of the IIHF.

Team USA continues their quest for a repeat gold medal tonight, taking on Japan at 8:30 p.m. EDT in the final game of the quarterfinal round.

The Basics: Thursday, April 11, 2024- USA vs Japan (Quarterfinals Matchup)- 8:30 p.m. EDT, Adirondack Bank Center, Utica, NY (NHL Network, TSN1, RDS Info)

What to Expect

Coyne Schofield is just off the left corner of the net shooting on Masuhara, who is in the butterfly. Ayaka Hitosato defends out front. Coyne Schofield is in white, while the Japanese players are in black and red.
Kendall Coyne Schofield shoots on Miyuu Masuhara during a 2022 meeting. Photo courtesy of the IIHF.

Team USA enters tonight after securing the top seed in a thriller of a 1-0 overtime win over Canada on Monday. After a rockier game against Finland on Saturday, the U.S. returned to their brand of excellent puck movement and incredibly fast play that allowed them to dominate Czechia and Switzerland. Look for them to bring that again tonight as they hope to bulldoze their way through Japan en route to Saturday’s semifinals. 

Meanwhile, Japan is coming off a commanding 3-0 win over Denmark on Tuesday in which they outshot them 31-8. It was Japan’s only win of the preliminary round, although they got a point in their opening shootout loss to China. Both teams were desperate heading in, knowing that a loss meant relegation. So, for Japan to control the game like they did and completely overwhelm Denmark demonstrated this team’s ability to show up when it matters most to them. Look for them to try to have another strong start tonight in by far their toughest test of the tournament.

Riko Kawaguchi takes a knee in a faceoff circle and gazes up the ice. She is wearing a black and red jersey, white mask, and black and red gear.
Riko Kawaguchi takes a knee during their recent game against Denmark. Photo by Matt Zambonin/IIHF.

In goal for Japan, look for Riko Kawaguchi to start. After Miyuu Masuhara patrolled the Japan crease in game one, Kawaguchi has started the past three and put up some solid showings to do her part the help her team avoid relegation. She allowed ten goals on 72 shots against the top dogs of Group B, Germany and Sweden, which is not bad considering the general lack of defensive help in front of her. Then, she shut the door when it mattered most and turned away all eight Denmark shots for her first senior national team shutout. According to EliteProspects, the 19-year-old has never played outside of her national team program, but the IIHF has her rostered with Daishin in the Japanese league.

As for the Americans, things have the potential to get a little interesting. I’m inclined to say Frankel will start since she’s their number one, and she is coming off an outstanding performance against Canada. Plus, the last time the U.S. claimed the top seed heading into the knockout rounds in 2022, they rolled with Nicole Hensley, who was then the starter. As I will elaborate on a little later, getting cocky and not putting your best foot forward is a bad idea. That said, starting Hensley isn’t exactly not putting your best foot forward since she is also outstanding. However, given there is a day off in between the quarters and semis, my gut says they’ll just keep rolling with Frankel. After all, she’s a big reason why they were able to secure the top seed on Monday.

However, the starter isn’t the most interesting goaltending decision to me. Both have proven themselves on the biggest stage, so the U.S. is in great hands either way. Instead, I’m more intrigued by who backs up. In the 2022 quarterfinals, then-backup Maddie Rooney did not dress, and instead Frankel backed up Hensley. After the U.S. jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the second period, they swapped Hensley out for Frankel to begin the third to give Frankel her first taste of senior national team action. Could that mean we’ll see the same thing happen with now-former Northeastern star Gwyneth Phillips? It's hard to say for sure, but it doesn’t feel impossible. Frankel was in a nearly identical situation in 2022, right down to being fresh off her final Northeastern season. The only major difference is Frankel had already been brought along to the 2021 Worlds without dressing in a game, while this is Phillips’ first time being brought to any international tournament, senior or junior.

USA Key to the Game

A view from inside the net as Carpenter scores on Masuhara. Masuhara is on her knees looking back and Carpenter is upright following through on her shot off to Masuhara's left. There are multiple Japanese skater in the background. Carpenter is in white, while the Japanese players are in black and red.
Alex Carpenter scores on Miyuu Masuhara during their 2022 meeting. Photo courtesy of the IIHF.

Good habits. It’s no secret who the better team is in this matchup, nor is it close. Team USA went undefeated in Group A while Japan just barely avoided relegation after going 1-0-1-0 in Group B. It can be hard to get going for a game like this after one so intense and emotionally charged like the U.S. just played against Canada. That said, they cannot get cocky and not bring their best game. The Japanese showed some strength in their game against Denmark, and they also managed to score one of the only two goals Germany’s Sandra Abstreiter allowed in her tear through group play. So, the Americans need to come into this one prepared to play from puck drop and shut Japan down early. Then, they need to keep good habits throughout the game to both win this one and prepare for the road ahead barring a massive upset.