While we wait for the NHL pros to end their differences with management and lace up their skates on American soil once again, hockey fans everywhere will be glad to know that Olympic qualification kicked off in Japan Friday.
The Japanese squad started their journey off well, winning 2-0 against Romania as they seek their first Olympic berth since automatically qualifying as the host nation during the 1998 Nagano Games.
Yutaka Fukufuji, who played four games for the Los Angeles Kings during the 2006-07 campaign, stopped 22 shots in the shutout while teammate Tetsuya Saito scored in the first period and Takuro Yamashita added an insurance goal in the third.
South Korea earned a 5-4 OT victory against Great Britain in the second game after falling behind by two goals three different times. Won Jung Kim scored a hat trick to keep the South Koreans in the game, Geunho Kim scored the equalizer to force overtime, and goaltender Sungje Park shut out the Brits in a shootout.
“We expected to win, we didn’t think we were the underdogs,” Won Jung Kim told an IIHF reporter after the game. “We are a fast team and our coach told us that we could outskate them.”
The winner of this weekend’s four-team round robin will go on to the final stage of qualification in February, where teams from around the world will vie for the final three spots in the 12-team Olympic tournament.
The other nine teams will earn automatic bids for Sochi based on the International Ice Hockey Federation world rankings. The United States team currently sits safely in seventh place.