Japan’s women’s hockey team rightfully earned the nickname ‘Smile Japan’ after having fun during the 2014 Winter Olympics, despite finishing last in the eight-team tournament.
However, this year they head to PyeongChang with a different mindset and are no longer satisfied with only qualifying for the tournament.
“Our main goal obviously is to get a medal,” Akane Hosoyamada told reporters. “We have a pretty good chance. We’ve gotten a lot better since Sochi so I’m really excited to play with Smile Japan hockey out on the ice."
The 25-year-old right-handed defender and her teammates aim to make history by earning Japan’s first medal in hockey by building off the disappointment in the 2014 Sochi Games.
"I was upset to see the (2014) result, as my parents are from Japan, Hosoyamada said. “I also always want Japan to do well. At that moment, I thought that I would regret, if I didn't go to the country. I want to compete at the Olympic Games while wearing the Japanese uniform."
Born to Japanese parents in Banff, Alberta, Hosoyamada had to overcome several obstacles as she earned the trust of her teammates. Most notably, she had to ditch her North American accent in order to assimilate.
“Coming to Japan I remember everyone saying that I had an English accent when I spoke Japanese. Right now I can speak fluently but back then I wasn’t that good at it because they would always laugh at me.”
During the 2014 Winter Games, Hosoyamada was only able to watch the highlights as she balanced her studies at Syracuse University and her passion for the Olympics.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t win a game, but I saw them score a couple of goals,” Hosoyamada said.
Carrying her experiences as a captain at Syracuse and hockey skills nurtured by an upbringing in Alberta, Hosoyamada meshed quickly with her teammates.
“It’s amazing. I’ve only been on the team for two years and we’re so close and they (teammates) take me under their wings. I meshed really well because everyone’s so nice.”
Japan is set to play its first game of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games Saturday February 10th, as they hope to smile their way to victories this time around. Puck drop is set for 2:40 a.m. ET.