For Moeka Tsutsumi, 2018/2019 will be a special season. She can play her third U18 Women’s World Championship on home ice while getting more training thanks to the 2018 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp and the opportunity to practise with the women’s national team.
While having suffered a descent in men’s hockey recently, Japan is a top-level country in women’s hockey. Since 2013 the land of the rising sun has constantly been a top-9 country in women’s hockey – whether it’s the Olympics, the Women’s World Championship or the U18 Women’s World Championship.
Next year Japan will be part of the extended IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship that will for the first time be staged with ten teams next spring in Espoo, Finland. In the U18 category Japan was promoted back to the top division and will host the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship from 6th to 13th January 2019 in Obihiro, one of the hockey cities in the northern island of Hokkaido.
Hokkaido is also the place many of the Japanese players come from including Moeka Tsutsumi, one of the players of the Japanese delegation at the 2018 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp that includes five players and one coach from the country who learn more on what it takes to be a top-level athlete and work at this level as team staff.
Despite being among the younger players on the last Japanese U18 women’s national team, she led her team in scoring and was third in the tournament with three goals and five assists in five games. She was on the first line as Japan dominated the Division I Group A in Asiago, Italy, and beat Slovakia 3-0 in the deciding game for promotion.
“It was a very good experience to play at this level. I’m happy that I could help my team,” the 17-year-old said about the two U18 Women’s Worlds she played. She still has one more year of junior eligibility. If she makes the team that will play on home ice next winter, it will be her third straight (and last) U18 Women’s World Championship.
Tsutsumi comes not far away from the host city, from Kushiro in the east of the island. “I started to play ice hockey when I was eight years old because of my father. He is a hockey coach,” she said. “What I really like is to play as a team, that was the main reason why I chose ice hockey.”
Beside school and hockey she likes to listen to music, watch dramas and relax.
After having played for the Japanese U18 women’s national team, the camp at the Sport Institute of Finland is her biggest international experience. Here she’s the only Japanese player on her Team Red, has another Asian teammate in Korean forward Jung Ye Won and is otherwise among European players from many countries and coaches and team staff from different nations.
For several days she has a full program with lessons on the ice, off the ice and in class rooms from morning until evening.
“I like to be able to play with people from many countries,” she said. “It is interesting what we are taught by coaches from different countries. I learned more on skills and skating in particular.”
For her last international events Tsutsumi and her teammates travelled to Europe. For next season she will be happy to welcome the world in Japan at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship. Among them may be some of her new friends at Team Red here like Lara Christen (Switzerland), Natalie Mlynkova (Czech Republic) and Krista Parkkonen (Finland), who all played at last year’s U18 Women’s Worlds.
“It will be held in Obihiro. Seafood is famous [in Hokkaido]. I think many people come to Japan for the first time. I would recommend them to go to many cities,” she advised the players.
While being happy that Japan will host the event for the first time, she also knows what challenge is ahead for her team. The last top division experiences for Japan in this category ended with relegation in 2015 and in 2017, the last time with Tsutsumi on the team. Both times they lost the relegation series against Switzerland.
“The main goal for our country is to remain in the top division. I’m trying to improve my level as we will have a lot of training camps. I will also have camps with the senior women’s national team. So I’m sure that we can achieve this goal,” she said. “I can learn a lot, more than last year. I’m training a lot more than last year.”
Being in Finland with players from 22 countries certainly comes in good timing for the Japanese ambitions.