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By Kerry Jackson – JuniorHockey.com

Japan will compete in Group B of Division I in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s U20 World Junior Championships in Tychy, Poland, this December after being promoted from Division II. It will compete in the same division with Italy, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Japan.

Last year’s team earned the promotion with four regulation wins and one overtime win in five games. It was a Division II powerhouse, scoring 23 goals and allowing only seven, and finishing first in the IIA group. The squad was led by 1999-born forward Tohi Kobayashi, who scored four goals and added six assists in those five games. He was tied for second in overall scoring for the tournament, and was a plus-7, a mark no other top-10 scorer was able to reach.

Kobayashi was also a force in the tournament the year before, scoring once and setting up four in five games.

The Japanese team was particularly strong in goal. Ryota Koda, a 1998, and Eiki Sato, a 2001, were the core of the team.

Koda led all goalies with a 0.99 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage in a pair of appearances. Sato played in five games, recording a 1.66 GAA and a .917 save percentage, good for second among all goalies. Sato put down a 1.80 GAA and .937 save percentage in five games in the U18 Division IB play last season. He was named Best Goaltender for 2017-18 in the U18 WJC.

Daiki Ayoama won the top defenseman award in the 2018 Division IIA world tournament. The 1999-born blueliner scored four times and had one assist in five games. In five games in previous U18 play he scored once and assisted on four goals.

Other junior players from Japan who are worthy of mention include 1998 forwards Hiroya Tokuda (two goals, four assists in the 2018 Division IIA World Junior Championship), and Jin Sawade (one goal, five assists), as well as 1999 defenseman Daika Miura (two goals, three assists).

The Division IB tournament starts Dec. 8 and runs through Dec. 14.