“We’ve been working for this over the last eight years because we missed Sochi 2014,” Nakakita said. “This match was the biggest match. And we’re so focused."
Japan and Germany have had a history of close games. But with a dominant win for the Japanese over their old rivals on the opening day of Ostersund 2017, head coach Kojin Nakakita hopes it sent a message to the rest of the teams in the Paralympic Winter Games Qualification Tournament.
“We’ve been working for this over the last eight years because we missed Sochi 2014,” Nakakita said. “This match [against Germany] was the biggest match. And we’re so focused.
“Winning these first two games will be very important for us.”
Nakakita has coached the Japanese national team since 2002, and helped guide them to their first Paralympic Winter Games medal at Vancouver 2010 with silver.
But since then, the team changed with retirements and departures.
Nakakita has had to rebuild the team since, and missing out on qualifying for Sochi 2014 put a chip on his shoulder. It was their first time missing out on a Paralympic Winter Games since Nagano 1998.
“We won the silver [in Vancouver] and only half the guys quit and we needed a new team,” Nakakita said.
Japan has found success at the World Championships B-Pool – silver medals in 2016 and 2013 – but have struggled to keep up in the A-Pool; at the 2015 and 2012 Worlds A-Pool, Japan finished eighth and seventh respectively.
Also, finding younger talent has been another major hump, as the average of the team is around 40.
“I think transferring all the technology and knowledge from elder to younger ones is a challenge,” Nakakita said.
Players such as forward Masaharu Kumagai, 42, have been key to the programme, especially during this week’s tournament. He scored two goals in the 6-2 win over Germany, including the opening goal.
PyeongChang 2018 might just be the push the Japanese programme needs to develop.
“He’s a mood-maker. When he scores a team goal. So first score was very very big,” Nakakita said.
“We’re going in against Sweden with the same intention,” he added. “Just play hard, play your hearts out.”
The competition continues on Tuesday (10 October) with Japan facing hosts Sweden, followed by Germany versus Slovakia.
The Paralympic Winter Games Qualification Tournament are taking place from 9-14 October in Ostersund, Sweden. The Tournament is the last opportunity for teams to qualify for the PyeongChang 2018 Games, in which the top three finishers will advance.
All games from Ostersund 2017 are being streamed live on the official event website and live statistics and results are also available.
Photos will be made available for media to download throughout the tournament on the IPC’s Flickr account.