POPRAD – Slovakia did beat Japan in a penalty shootout, 1-0, but is out of Olympic contention before the last game day on Sunday. Thursday’s loss to Denmark turned out to be too costly.
“I think the players were a little nervous yesterday, playing in front of a home crowd. We knew Japan had fast players, and I think it was an excellent game,” said Slovakia’s head coach Miroslav Karafiat.
The winner of the game between Japan and Denmark on Sunday will earn a spot in Sochi.
Zuzana Tomcikova made 64 saves - and four in the penalty shootout - for Slovakia. Jana Kapustova scored the game winning goal as Slovakia’s fourth shooter.
The last time these two nations met, in the Twelve Nations tournament in Finland in August 2011, Slovakia won the game 4-0. Slovakia needed a similar result in today’s game to keep their Olympic dream alive. A loss, and the hosts would be eliminated from contention. A regulation time win would keep the dream alive, even if Slovakia would still need a little bit of help from Japan.
After 60 minutes of fast-paced hockey, the several hundreds of Slovakian fans who had crowded the Poprad Arena, had to do the bitter math. The game was a goalless tie after regulation time, and even a win on overtime wouldn’t be enough.
But there was still the matter of winning a hockey game in front of a loud home crowd. Slovakia pressed hard during the five-minute overtime, especially on their power play when Chiho Osawa was in the box for hooking, but just couldn’t beat Azusa Nakaoku in Japan’s goal.
The game had been all Japan, who fired 64 shots on Slovakia’s goal, 62 of them in the first three periods, but Tomcikova turned them all away. She was more than solid in Slovakia’s goal, even if many of Japan’s shots came from the outside.
“I think we played a good game. I don’t know why we couldn’t score,” said Japan’s forward Chiho Osawa.
The first period was goalless, and while Japan outshot Slovakia 14-5 in the period, both teams had their share of high-quality scoring chances.
Japan’s domination was even more total in the second period. They outshot the Slovaks 24-4 in the period, and at one point had a two-minute long sequence during which they held the puck in the Slovak zone. While it certainly wore down Slovak defence, it didn’t yield immediate results.
Japan began the third period shorthanded, with Aina Takeuchi in the penalty box for boarding and Hanae Kubo for hooking, but Slovakia couldn’t capitalize on their two-man advantage. As soon as Japan was playing at full strength again, the game moved to the Slovak zone.
“I think that was the turning point of the game, or the key moment at least,” said Karafiat. “We should have scored there.”
With 3:24 remaining, Japan’s defenceman sent the puck to the net, and it seemed to have slipped from Tomcikova, but a video review showed that the puck had not cross the goal line.
And that was as close as Japan got.
“We know we’ll play our game, like we played today, and we’ll do our best to win the game on Sunday,” said Osawa.
“I have full confidence in my players. I know they can do it,” said coach Yuji Iizuka.
Slovakia will play against Norway on Sunday, while Japan takes on Denmark. The winner of the latter game will earn a spot in the Sochi Olympics.
RISTO PAKARINENClick here for scores, stats and photos.