International Ice Hockey Federation

Important moments #2

Important moments #2

Sugawara's own goal

Published 20.10.2014 18:50 GMT+2 | Author Derek O'Brien, Radek Barkman
Important moments #2
Ukraine's Sergi Varlamov hits Japan's most famous own-goal scorer Nobuhiro Sugawara during a game of the 2004 IIHF World Championship in Ostrava. Photo: Grigory Dukor / Reuters
Do you remember the last time Japan played in the top division? Coincidentally, it was 2004, the last time the Worlds were held in the Czech Republic.

Do you remember the last participation of Japan at the World Championship? It’s a nice coincidence, because it was on the last championship held Czech Republic in 2004.

From 1998 until 2004, one place in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship's top division was reserved for a qualifier from Asia. This spot was always won by Japan, who ended up in the relegation round and finished 16th and last in the tournament five years in a row. However, prior to the 2004 Worlds the automatic Asian qualifier was eliminated, and therefore the Japanese would have to avoid the last two spots if they wanted to remain in the top group.

They were drawn into a preliminary group with Sweden, Russia and Denmark, and Japan faced Denmark in the second game for each team, with the winner almost certainly avoiding the relegation round. The Danes had lost their opening game to Russia 6-2, while Japan was defeated by Sweden 5-1.

The date was 27 April, and the game played in front of almost 5,000 spectators at CEZ Arena in Ostrava. In an evenly-played game, in which the lead changed a couple of times, it seemed clear that the winner wouldn’t be decided until the very end. The Japanese relied heavily on defenceman Takayuki Kobori, a veteran of the Nagano Olympics, who scored twice in this game. Kim Staal answered his second goal to make it 3-3 after two periods.

The game was finally settled on a bizarre play. Denmark's Morten Green carried the puck deep into the attacking zone and sent a pass to the front of goal, hoping to find somebody there for a tap-in. That's what happened, but it was the stick of Japan's Nobuhiro Sugawara that put the puck in.

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It's unclear exactly what Sugawara was trying to do - whether he was trying to clear the puck away and accidentally fired it right into the middle of the net, or actually took leave of his senses and thought he was scoring into the Danish net. He raised his arms in the air - some believe he was initially celebrating the goal, while others claim it was an act of despair. In any event, it wasn't long before the situation was clear and he fell to his knees with head in his hands.

The devastated Japanese team couldn’t recover after this own goal and were sent to the relegation group. There they continued to be competitive with two ties against Ukraine and France sandwiched around a narrow defeat to Kazakhstan. Their 15th-place finish was Japan's highest since 1998, but it wasn't good enough to avoid relegation.

Since then, the Japanese haven't been able to return to the elite championships, despite some promising results in the Division I Group A. In 2014 they were especially close to returning back to the Czech Republic. They had to beat Hungary in their last game and were almost there with 30 seconds to go and a 4-3 lead. However, Marton Vas scored to tie the game, sending it to overtime and eventually game-winning shots. There it was Vas again, who scored three times to secure the win for Hungary. Austria could have helped Japan with a win over Slovenia later that day, but lost 3-1 in a neighbouring clash that saw both teams promoted to the Worlds in Prague and Ostrava.


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