Lady Dragons close on promotion dream

23 August 2023

Denmark Women 2 China Women 4

China is just one win away from promotion to the World Championship elite after victory over Denmark in Shenzhen on Wednesday. A powerful first period set the Lady Dragons on the path to a third successive win in the Division IA tournament and moved the team to the top of the standings.

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The win over the Danes was a repeat of our girls’ Olympic success against the same opponent last February. It also dealt a serious blow to Denmark’s hopes of an instant return to the top division after suffering relegation last season. Despite coming to China as favorites to top the group, Denmark has lost two of its three games so far and cannot afford any further slip-ups if it is to sneak into the top two.

For China, though, there is no such stress. A 100% record through three games puts our team on top of the group. One win in the remaining two games would surely seal a top-two place and elevation to the top division for the first time since 2009.

Wednesday’s win was delivered in the first period. China made a flying start, outshooting the Danes 22-4 and jumping to a 3-0 lead. The opener arrived inside two minutes when Guan Yingying collected Zhu Rui’s pass off the boards and advanced to the right-hand face-off spot before wiring a wrister over Emma-Sofie Nordstrom’s glove.

That got the 7,600 crowd – the biggest so far in a well-attended tournament – excited and there was more to come. Denmark ran into penalty trouble, and although the Vikings managed to kill back-to-back minors, the momentum saw China extend the lead shortly after the teams returned to equal strength. The Danes could not clear their zone and eventually the puck dropped for Wang Jiaxin, unattended in front of the net, to fire home the second. Wang was a regular with KRS Shenzhen last season, and her performances at this tournament highlight how much the 17-year-old forward gained from that experience.

The opening frame ended with a fine goal to make it three: Zhang Xifang (Anna Segedi)’s scintillating rush from her own zone took her into the Danish half. Then she exchanged passes with Kang Mulan (Kassy Betinol) before finishing what she started by outwitting Nordstrom at close quarters. Segedi and Nordstrom know each other well – the two are team-mates in college hockey at St. Lawrence University in the NCAA.

However, after a terrific first period from China, it was Denmark’s time to impress in the second. The pattern of play was almost completely reversed, and suddenly Tiya Chen was the busier of the goalies. Denmark outshot the Dragons 19-5, but Chen made all the difference. She was beaten just once, early in the frame, and did a fine job of preserving China’s lead.

In the third period, the emphasis was on game management. After two periods of attacking hockey, with both teams enjoying long spells of dominance, the final frame saw China effectively shut the game down. It may not have been the prettiest play, but few of the vocal home fans were concerned about that as Scott Spencer’s team did a thoroughly professional job to see the game out. Thirteen minutes into the finale, Hu Baozhen (Maddy Woo) sent Fei Anna (Anna Fairman) into the Danish zone with no defensive cover. Nordstrom stopped the initial shot, but Fang Xin was following up to score her second in successive games and make it 4-1. Nicoline Jensen responded with her second of the game a minute later, but the gap was too big for Denmark to recover.

Earlier in the day, the Netherlands followed up yesterday’s surprise win over Denmark with a 2-1 success against previously unbeaten Austria. That result leaves both countries on six points, three behind China. Denmark remains fourth, but is joined on three points by Norway after the Scandinavians defeated winless Slovakia 4-2.

The tournament continues Thursday when China plays Austria. Earlier in the day, Norway will face the Netherlands before Denmark takes on Slovakia.

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