Japan’s women’s ice hockey team has made history, becoming the country’s first team to claim a gold medal in an Olympic ice hockey competition by defeating Sweden 4-1 at the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games.
Rio Noro had the game winner as the Japanese overcame an early deficit to score four unanswered to claim gold.
"Our feeling to win, to continue to the end, that was the difference," said an elated Noro after the game.
"The medal is a gift for the fans and the coaches who have supported us for a long time to play ice hockey," said goaltender Yuzuyu Fujii. "I will go to my family and my coaches and hang the gold medal around their necks."
For Sweden, the task was to neutralize the potent line combination of Makoto Ito, Minami Kamada, and Hina Shimomukai, which has accounted for 11 goals in three games, and get pucks on net against Fujii.
Fujii was tested early as a shot from the point bounced off her helmet, and forced her to make a great follow up save with the paddle on Nicole Hall’s rebound chance. Then she had to hold the fort with her team playing 5-on-3, as penalty trouble dogged the Japanese through the first period, keeping the team off-balance and unable to get their offence going.
"I was just asking the team 'Is this the style that we planned?," said head coach Arto Sieppi to his team at intermission. "They decided then that they would skate more, battle more, try to stay focused and come back to the back shift after shift. I think the girls did a tremendously good job."
Japan responded early in the second frame after killing off a penalty. Sweden was unable to clear the puck which came to Makoto Ito in front of the net, who turned and fired an off-balance shot at the net. Ebba Svensson Traff gave the rebound and Shimomukai was there to clean up and tie the game at 1-1.
"At first (period) I took a penatly and felt so bad for my mistake, I had to score and was happy when I did," said Shimomukai.
But sometimes it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. The turning point came thanks to fantastic board work by forward Nagomi Muramaki, as the diminutive forward was able to keep the puck away from two big Swedish defenders behind the Swedish goal line. Her teammate Riri Noro came in to help out and managed to kick the puck in front to her twin sister Rio Noro in front of the net for the go-ahead score.
Having finished atop the podium under the Olympic Rings, Japan's golden moment has arrived.