Japan and Switzerland earned their places at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics this weekend in the final two IIHF qualifying tournaments. In an interesting twist, both teams secured their Olympic berths on home ice, with Japan victorious in Group D’s tournament in Tomokomai, Japan, while Switzerland emerged from Group C play in Arosa, Switzerland.
Bolstered by the determination to prove their 2014 Olympic appearance wasn’t a fluke, Japan routed Austria 6-1 in their opening match, with veteran forward Hanae Kubo completing the hat trick. Kubo went on to score twice more in the tournament with a power play goal against France and the insurance goal against Germany to secure Japan’s 3-1 victory. A member of Team Japan since 1999, Kubo finished with a tournament-leading six points (five goals, one assist).
In addition to earning a return trip to the biggest stage in international sports, Smile Japan continued to prove they’re a hockey nation on the rise. They led the tournament in nearly every category: Kubo for scoring and points, forward Haruka Toko in assists and faceoff wins, and goaltender Nana Fujimoto with a .950 save percentage. Fujimoto surrendered only three goals all tournament and finished with 57 saves.
Switzerland also opened their tournament with a 6-1 victory and a hat trick, with University of Minnesota-Duluth senior Lara Stalder doing the honors against Denmark. Stalder’s scoring tear continued throughout the qualifications; she netted another hat trick two days later against Norway as the Swiss offense ran rampant, outshooting their opponents 45-17. Stalder’s eight goals and four assists was enough to crown her Group C’s leading scorer with 12 points.
Swiss goaltender Florence Schelling’s fortitude in net played a big role in her team’s three victories. The three-time Olympian and 2014 bronze medalist held her own over Denmark, Norway, and the Czech Republic; she allowed three goals in three games and tied Fujimoto with a 1.00 goals against average.
The IIHF released the updated seeding and complete Olympic lineup on February 13:
Play will start on February 9, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.