After nearly half a year of Olympic qualifiers that began in Mexico last October, four rounds of play and 22 teams competing for a mere two spots in Pyeongchang, the final qualification spots were today clinched by Japan and Switzerland for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
In Arosa, Switzerland qualified for their fourth Olympics (looking to continue the momentum from their stunning 2014 bronze medal win in Sochi) with a 4-1 victory over Czechia. Capitalizing on late power play goals from Lara Stalder in the second period and Alina Muller in the third, and sharp play from Florence Schelling in goal after conceding the first goal early in the game, the Eisgenossen sealed the victory with Stalder’s second on an empty Czech net. Rounding out Group C was Denmark and Norway, who advanced from Preliminary Round 3 in December.
Meanwhile, in Tomakomai, Japan, it was a similar tightly-contested game with a trip to Pyeongchang on the line, this time between hosts Japan and Germany, that was broken by a late goal from veteran forward Hanae Kubo. Kubo’s goal with 5:17 remaining in regulation put “Smile Japan” ahead 3-1, a big enough cushion for them to hold on to the lead and clinch a spot at their third Olympics, after 1998 and 2014. Goaltender Nana Fujimoto was superb, as Japan conceded only their third goal in the entire round robin tournament, with their iron-clad defence shutting down the Träger der Adler. Austria and France, who joined this group by winning Preliminary Round 3, completed the group.
Japan and Switzerland will now join Group B in Pyeongchang, alongside hosts Korea and Sweden. The Olympic tournament will follow a similar format to the current Women’s World Championships, which sees the top two teams in Group B and the bottom two of Group A meet in the Quarterfinal round, while the bottom two Group B teams meet in relegation games. And seeing as Korea is ranked far lower than either team, it stands to reason that one (or both) of these squads could be competing for a medal in one year’s time. Our congrats to both squads for making it to the Olympics!