The United States outshot Japan 59-14 en route to a 7-1 win on the first day of the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship, a game that started with a rare goal against the Americans for Japan.
This is the second tournament in a row in which the first preliminary game for Group A has featured the USA and Japan. The USA won 10-0 in 2022, but despite opening the 2022 tournament with such a loss, Japan went on to earn the right to stay in Group A with a thrilling 1-0 shootout win over Finland.
On Wednesday afternoon at the CAA Centre, the USA came out with a ferocious forecheck, forcing Miyuu Masuhara—Japan’s starter following an impressive debut at the 2022 Women’s Worlds—to stand tall in net. But it was Japan who got on the board first, with Haruka Toko scoring off a pass from Remi Koyama to give Japan its first ever lead over the USA at the Women’s World Championship. Scoring against the USA seems to run in the family: Haruka’s sister Ayaka Toko achieved a similar feat at the 2011 U18 Women’s World Championship, opening scoring against the USA in an eventual 7-1 loss.
“Especially in Group A, there’s some tough games out there, and [the USA is] one of them, and to be able to get the first goal regardless of the result is a big step for our program. It was a great atmosphere on the bench today too and it was a lot of fun,” said Chihiro Suzuki, who made her Women’s Worlds debut along with teammate Rio Noro (minus her twin sister Riri, who didn’t dress for the game). Suzuki’s University of Guelph teammates made the drive to Brampton to surprise her, showing up to the game in their Gryphons jerseys. “I actually didn’t know they were coming at all. A couple of them are my roommates and I asked, ‘oh are you guys coming’ and they said ‘oh we have practice today’. I saw one of them show up with their jersey and was like, oh it’s going to turn into the whole team. [Playing for Japan is] something I’ve dreamed of for a long time and to be able to do it so close to home and so close to my friends, I can’t really ask for much more.”
Japan’s lead was short-lived, with Megan Keller tying the game just over a minute later. This was followed by back-to-back goals from Alex Carpenter, a back door power play goal in the final minutes of the first period, and a one-timer off an Amanda Kessel pass to open the second period. Taylor Heise, the 2022 Women’s Worlds MVP, added to the Americans’ tally shortly after, giving her team a 4-1 lead that they would carry on into the third.
“Obviously we want to be able to respond to any team that quick, so to be able to do that was good for us,” Carpenter said of the tying goal. “Japan’s a great team. They always play us hard. They got a lot of odd man rushes against us and used their speed, and it’s awesome to see other countries, the strides they make in the span of a year. I liked our speed, every line was handing off a shift one to the other, and we were able to generate some offensive zone time and a lot of scoring chances from that.”
Japan opted to swap goaltenders at the halfway point, with teenager Riko Kawaguchi taking over for Masuhara. Kawaguchi allowed three goals against, snipers from Hannah Bilka and Abbey Murphy and a tip from Hilary Knight.
In addition to Japan’s early lead, this game featured a number of other firsts, such as Knight stepping on the ice wearing the ‘C’ for the first time.
“It’s a tremendous honour to be around this room and to lead it, it’s just incredible. These are the people you want to show up to every single day with,” said Knight. “It’s so infectious in the best way. You want to come to the rink to work even harder, you want to have fun with them, you want to create all those memories.”
This was also the first World Championship start for Aerin Frankel, her only other experience in net for the USA coming in the third period of a 12-1 win over Hungary at the 2022 Women’s Worlds. Tessa Janecke, Gabrielle Hughes, Rebecca Gilmore and Haley Winn all made their senior national team debuts, with Janecke collecting an assist on Keller’s tying goal and Winn notching two assists in the third period.
“That was our first game as a full team [and] so it was good to have everybody together besides at practice,” said Carpenter. “And to get their feet wet, it’s a special moment for a lot of these kids playing in their first international tournament, and we’re excited that everybody contributed to that.”