North Vancouver resident Hannah Miller notched the game-winning shootout winner for the Olympic home team, helping China edge Japan 2-1 in preliminary round action Sunday, Feb. 6 at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
Miller, whose Chinese name is Le Mi on the roster, qualified for the foreign squad under International Ice Hockey Federation's residency requirements. She joined the Chinese-owned KRS Vanke Rays in 2018. That team is now based in Russia.
Nevertheless, the game was an exciting one for the two rival Asian teams. In fact, it was the first Olympic matchup between China and Japan in 24 years, as women's hockey was first introduced to the Olympics at Nagano 1998, with the epic confrontation ending in a pulse-pounding shootout. This was also the first shootout to take place in women's ice hockey at Beijing 2022, featuring a tremendous display of goaltending skill from both Japan's Nana Fujimoto, who plays with the New York Riveters of the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), and China's Kimberly Newell, known as Jiang Zhou in Chinese, who minds the crease for the University Princeton Tigers in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Through the first 16 minutes of play, a scoreless tie added to the intensity of the match, with both teams looking for a berth in the quarterfinals. Special teams factored in the game's first goal, with Rebekah Kolstad, or Beika Li, serving a penalty for an illegal hit and Ahana Kosoyamada capitalizing on Japan's powerplay to open the scoring, her first goal in Beijing, to make it 1-0 over China. Before the first period expired, Japan was back on the powerplay. Miller (Le Mi) went to the penalty box for an illegal hit and with less than two minutes to play, Newell (Jiang Zhou) stymied the Japanese offence, denying them the opportunity to add to their one-goal lead. Facing 13 shots from Japan in the second period, Newell's brilliance between the pipes was on full display. Certainly, her efforts were crucial on the penalty kill.
Rachel Llanes, or Ne Lin, who scored China's game-winning goal versus Denmark earlier in Group B action, found herself in the penalty box at 7:03 into the second period for an illegal hit, the team's third such call of the game. It became clear to the Chinese that they could not afford to give up more powerplay opportunities to the Japanese. Entering the third period, China seemed to build momentum, ready to tie the game. Maddie Woo, or Baozhen Hu on the home country's roster and one of 13 North Americans on Team China, supplied the heroics, scoring on Fujimoto at the 1:06 mark. The remainder of the period resulted in a scoreless drought, neither team able to grab three points from a win in regulation time. The scoreless trend continued in overtime. Although both teams combined for nine shots on net, the quality of the goaltending remained a key theme, meaning that a shootout would determine the victor in this intense rivalry.
Marking an exciting first in Beijing, with many of the early preliminary games of the tournament ending in lopsided scores, the first three rounds of the shootout resulted in save after save on both sides, again continuing the scoreless trend. With tension growing in each successive round, the fourth finally saw the game's heroines emerge for host team China, both offensively and in the net. Miller, or Le Mi, put it past Fujimoto, providing China with its first lead of the game. Newell, or Jiang Zhou, then stopped Haruka Toko, in the fourth round, following that up by blanking that shooter's sister. Ayaka Toko, in the fifth, stealing the win for the host country and marking a defining moment for the gregarious goaltender. Earning two points for the shootout win, China remained in third place in Group B, with five points overall. In spite of the loss, The Japanese gained one point, allowing them to remain in first place with seven points, clinching them a place in the quarterfinals, an exciting first for that country. Sandwiched in second place was the Czech Republic with six points, with the top three teams qualifying.