With an intense, emotional affair requiring a shootout, Japan emerged victorious in a 1-0 final versus Finland in the fifth-place game of the 2022 IIHF Women's World Championship. After suffering a 9-3 loss to Finland earlier in the tournament, Japan regrouped, holding Finland scoreless throughout regulation.
Heading into the placement game, Japan enjoyed a strong run of momentum. Besting Sweden in a 5-4 final, the win provided a brush with history.
Marking the first time that the Japanese have scored five goals in tournament play, as a side note, the last time Japan opposed Sweden, a 2019 victory by Japan placed the Swedes into relegation.
After Finland suffered a quarterfinal loss in overtime to eventual bronze medallist the Czech Republic, the squad entered the placement game playing for pride. During the first period, Finnish skater Noora Tulus missed an open net, proving to be one of the best scoring opportunities in regulation.
The second period saw Finland's offense pepper Japanese goaltender Miyuu Masuhara with 27 shots. The small 20-year-old goaltender played with the heart of a giant, constantly showing tremendous poise. Especially with Japan mustering merely four shots in the period, it marked her most inspiring performance of the tournament.
In a third period that saw Japan manage only two shots on net, its defence-first approach is what forced overtime. Finland elevated its offensive attack in overtime, outshooting Japan by a 10-1 margin. Veteran forward Michele Karvinen, who hit the crossbar earlier in the extra frame, placed the puck past Masahara, but an offside call negated the offensive effort.
With overtime unable to determine a winner, a shootout saw Finland gain the first advantage. Tulus found the back of the net. As Japan"s first two shooters were unable to score on Finnish goaltender Anni Kiesala, victory seemed within reach for the persistent Finns.
Once again, Masahara, who finished the game with an astounding 61 saves, emerged as an essential factor. Keeping the remaining Finnish skaters off the scoresheet, Haruka Toko and Remi Koyama each recorded goals, providing the Japanese with one of their most emotional wins ever.
The victory represents a major shift in the balance of power in women's hockey, a theme further emphasized by the Czech experiencing their first-ever podium finish in the top division.
Japan remains in Group A for the 2023 edition of the women's worlds, while Finland is in a rather unusual spot. Suffering a sixth place ranking, the worst in national team history, 2023 shall see the Finn's participate in Group B play.