The first day of hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics kicks off with the opening of the women’s tournament in Pyeongchang. The action begins extremely early in the morning for those of us in North America, and that will be common throughout the next few weeks, so get ready to make some coffee and watch hockey while everyone else is asleep.All of the matchups will be streamed live by NBC, and many others will also receive live and/or tape-delayed television broadcasts.The first game of the tournament will see Japan take on Sweden at 2:40 a.m. ET. The Swedish won Olympic medals in 2002 and 2006, including a shocking upset of Team USA in the semifinals 12 years ago, but they’ve finished fourth at the past two Olympic tournaments. Here’s more on Sweden from The Ice Garden, SB Nation’s women’s hockey blog.Japan will be competing in its second straight Olympic women’s hockey tournament after finishing seventh in Sochi. They’re coming off a perfect showing at the 2017 Asian Winter Games, where they outscored opponents — and this is completely serious — by a combined score of 98-1.That says more about the state of women’s hockey across Asia than anything about the dominance of Japan, though, so Sweden will be heavily favored.The second game of the day sees Switzerland take on hosting Korea at 7:10 a.m. ET. That game will be broadcast live on USA Network in addition to its online coverage. Switzerland will be looking to defend the bronze medal it won in Sochi, although it finished seventh at the past two World Championships.
The opening of the Olympic women’s hockey tournament on Saturday is about more than just the game itself.Host South Korea is fielding a joint team with North Korea, and the team’s first contest comes against 2014 bronze medalist Switzerland.A dozen North Koreans will be on the unified Korean team, including Hwang Chang-gum, who will be one of two Korean flag-bearers at the opening ceremony, per USA Today’s Aamer Madhani.Before the much-anticipated appearance of the host nation at the Kwandong Hockey Center, Sweden faces Japan in the opening game of the tournament.Saturday’s hockey participants are jockeying for two positions in the knockout round, while the loaded Group A with the United States, Canada, Olympic Athletes of Russia and Finland are guaranteed four spots in the six-team elimination bracket that occurs after round-robin play.Winberg, who is competing in her fourth Olympics, has the experience required to get Sweden back to the medal round, as she scored the game-winning goal in 2006 Olympic semifinal win over the United States, a victory that propelled Sweden to its best finish in the tournament.Japan is participating in the Olympic tournament for the third time in its history. It was part of the competition in 1998 as host, and it qualified for the 2014 tournament and finished seventh.This will be the second consecutive time Sweden and Japan are squaring off in their first game of Olympic pool play.
Sweden came away with a 1-0 victory in Sochi by way of a first-period goal from Jenni Asserholt.Entering Saturday’s second contest at Kwandong Hockey Center, all of the attention is on the unified Korea team, which will dress three of the North Korean players for each game.While most of the eyes will be on Korea, and rightfully so, Switzerland has its own intriguing storyline.The Swiss earned their first Olympic women’s hockey medal in 2014, as they came out of the stacked Group A and knocked off Sweden in the third-place game to claim bronze.Switzerland’s squad boasts a mix of experience and youth, and it contains a few players who played college hockey in the United States, including captain Livia Altmann, who scored two goals and recorded four assists in 26 games this season for Colgate.Forward Lara Stalder is the player to watch for the defending bronze medalist. The 23-year-old was a First-Team All-American at Minnesota-Duluth and a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, which is the women’s college hockey equivalent to the Heisman Trophy, in her senior season before she joined Linkoping in Sweden.In addition to having three North Koreans dress for each game, South Korea boasts a roster with a few North Americans with Korean heritage, including Caroline Park, who will return to medical school at Columbia after the Olympics.I didn’t really have any ties there until I played hockey,” Park said. “Being part of their first Olympic team, I have a lot of pride for what I’m part of now, and where my parents are from.Switzerland is expected to win the game with relative ease, but by the end of Saturday, that won’t be a topic as important as the appearance of the unified Korean team.As expected, the starters for this one are Sara Grahn and Nana Fujimoto.First goal is a quick shot from an angle, short side top shelf by Fanny Rask to put Sweden up 1-0 less than three minutes into the period. Pretty goal, assist to Sabina Küller. Shortly thereafter, Japan is awarded the first power play of the game as there’s a tripping call seconds after the faceoff.Japan definitely has plans but a lot of their shots are blocked by Swedish skaters. Early shots are mostly Sweden but Japan evens it up and Cassie talks about better scoring chances for them.Commentators talk about “rookies” which I think is sort of silly, they define rookies as anyone who hasn’t been to the Olympics before. For anyone looking at our previews, we classified “rookies” as players who haven’t played at Olympics or Worlds before.As period progresses, more Japanese chances. A lot of focus on Canadian-born Akane Hosoyamada by the commentators. Hanae Kubo and captain Chiho Osawa have the puck a lot as well for Japan.Cassie points out that the two refs are American and that might be why the teams are getting away with a fair amount of body contact along the boards. It doesn’t look like much to me, but it’s true that generally in international play they call contact more harshly than in the CWHL.Breakaway by Rebecca Stenberg and Japan has a near miss as Fujimoto stopped the first attempt but Furies alumna Sena Suzuki needed to handle the rebound.Japan ends the period up on shots 9 – 8.Lot of icing by Sweden, although they looked to be in charge earlier in the first.Sweden has size on Japan but although they started off slow, as game progresses, Japan matches them in speed.Grahn has had to be good, but luckily for Sweden, she is.Although Japan has dominated second period, Kubo called for tripping and Sweden finally get some of their best chances on the power play. Play evens up a little after the penalty, more Swedish pressure.A few of Japan’s chances are thwarted by missed passes. There’s frequent characterisation of their shots as “soft” and the suggestion that they need to take away the eyes of Grahn.Rookie Rebecca Stenberg seems to be in the play quite a lot, as is Hanna Olsson, Emma Nordin and of course Rask.
Second period in a row Japan turns up the heat late with a flurry of shots, and it pays off as they tie it at one with a little over three minutes left in the game. Rui Ukita scores on the rebound with a backhand, with the assist to Kubo.Sweden responds with increased pressure of their own but Fujimoto holds her ground and Japan gets a couple more nice chances before the end of the period. Again, Japan ends the period up on shots 11-9.Japan gets the first shot of the period, another by Suzuki. However it’s a quick shot by Sara Hjalmarsson off a play by Erika Grahm to put Sweden back ahead 2-1. Suzuki was involved in that play as well and she didn’t look great.A battle for the puck in the corner ends in a cross-check by Johanna Fallman and Japan gets their second power play of the game. Sweden takes control however (credit to Maja Nyhlén Persson with the initial long shot to get the puck all the way down to Fujimoto) and it’s over a minute in before Japan gets their first shot.Sweden is getting physical in the final period as Anna Borgqvist gets called for bodychecking. The power play starts a little better for Japan but they still end up in their own zone. The Swedes receive a little physical punishment of their own as the kill winds down, when a few of them block Japanese shots.Anyone who has the image of cute little Smile Japan should see the amount of shoving in front of the Swedish net every time a chance in close ends in a save that stops play.Nana Fujimoto is as good as any goalie in Group B and she’s showing it in this game.Nyhlén Persson is mentioned a lot in the third period, mostly defensively, she has a knack for clearing the zone.Less than five minutes to go and Sweden ices the puck. Japan’s still getting chances here, the game is far from over. Both teams are frantic to get the next goal.Just over a minute left in the game Japan is called offside. They call a timeout and there’s a possibility that Fujimoto may be pulled – she was cheating up as the zone entry was attempted.Sweden gets another penalty with just 47.8 seconds left, Annie Svedin called for roughing. Japan pulls Fujimoto for 6 on 4. Winberg sends a shot up ice that just misses the Japanese net.The horn sounds and the Swedes are overjoyed—they survived a tough one and they know it. Japan outshot them 31-26 in the end. There’s no doubt that Japan will get their first Olympic win this year, unfortunately it wasn’t today.People dressed up as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un caused a commotion when they appeared in the stands at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony on Friday before swiftly being shown out by security staff. Japan remained winless in Olympic women’s ice hockey after a 2-1 opening loss to Sweden in the preliminary round of the tournament in Pyeongchang on Saturday.The Japanese outshot their opponents 31-26 but could not take advantage of their greater attempts or their 6 minutes, 48 seconds of power play opportunity. It is the women’s team’s third Olympic appearance after losing all five tournament games on home ice in Nagano in 1998 and again at the Sochi Games in 2014.There were a lot of times when we were able to play at our own pace, but we couldn’t get any goals through,” captain Chiho Osawa said. “I want to concentrate and win the next (game) so we can advance to the finals.Sweden took a quick lead in the first period after Fanny Rask put a shot past goalkeeper Nana Fujimoto to start the action at Kwandong Hockey Centre.Smile Japan” came back aggressively, with Hanae Kubo leading its nine first-period attempts on Sweden’s goalie Sara Grahn, but couldn’t put anything home despite a two-minute power play.In the second period, Fujimoto stopped Sweden from capitalizing on a tripping penalty that sent Kubo to the box, and Rui Ukita gave Japan its first goal of the games when she equalized after flipping in a deflected shot by Kubo.But the Swedes took back the lead at the start of the third period, when Sara Hjalmarsson knocked in an assist from Erika Grahm, and maintained it until the buzzer for a winning start to the tournament.Sweden sits on three points in the lower-ranked Group B, which also consists of Switzerland and the joint team of athletes from North and South Korea, whom Japan plays next Wednesday.Canada, Finland, the Olympics Athletes from Russia, and the United States make up the higher-ranked Group A.Japan will take on Sochi bronze winner Switzerland in its next game on Monday.