GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The roar echoed through the Kwandong Hockey Centre the moment Randi Heesoo Griffin’s shot from the right circle crossed the line for the first Olympic goal in Korean women’s hockey history.
Then the Japanese topped the combined Korean team’s moment with an even bigger piece of history.
Their first victory in their third Olympic berth with a 4-1 win at Korea’s expense.
“It is very special to win against Korea, and I feel really great, especially considering the fact that we came here as an away team and we still won,” Japan forward Chiho Osawa said.
Hanae Kubo and Shoko Ono each scored in the first period. Shiori Koike and Rui Ukita each scored in the third.
Japan came into its third Olympics winless in the Winter Games, but it has the ninth-ranked team in the world and tops in Asia.
South Korea got a berth as host of the Pyeongchang Games and brought in six North Americans for their debut. The Koreans were also playing with 12 North Koreans added to their expanded roster last month under an agreement between countries divided for seven decades. The last time the Koreas were unified was during Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945 — a period that has left the Koreas and Japan fierce and bitter rivals.
“I would say the games against Japan more than anything else have been something that have brought North and South Koreans together because everyone is saying, ‘We really need to win this game,'” Griffin said.
Kubo scored 67 seconds in, and Ono added a power-play goal at 3:58.
The Koreans made Olympic history of their own with their first goal at 9:31 of the second on their 33rd shot over three games. And the goal came from a pair of Americans recruited to help South Korea field its first Olympic team.
Griffin was one of several foreign-born players who joined the South Korean national team after naturalization last year. After being asked by the Korean Olympic Committee to fast-track the naturalization of import players, the Justice Ministry granted them citizenship in accordance with a revised law that allows qualified foreign nationals to hold multiple citizenships.
The Duke doctoral student from Cary, North Carolina, whose mother is from South Korea, scored from the right circle off an assist from fellow American Marissa Brandt before the Koreans came together jumping and celebrating on the ice. Griffin said it was good Korea scored a goal in the Olympics, something the team desperately wanted. The goal mattered more than the quality.
“It was kind of a lucky bounce that went in,” Griffin said. “Most of all I feel proud of how our team played, we really gave them a run for their money.”
Fans erupted while the North Korean cheerleaders jumped from their seats in the most uncoordinated moves they’ve made yet.
Shin So Jung made 40 saves, keeping Korea close. Then Koike scored on a slap shot from the high slot with 8:18 left, and Ukita, suspended for Japan’s loss to Switzerland, had an empty-netter with 1:27 to go.
Both teams play Sunday against the losers of Saturday’s quarterfinals to classify the fifth through eighth teams. Japan finished seventh in Sochi in 2014.
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