Category: Asia (page 1 of 10)

PH ice hockey team targets gold in SEA Games

By Dennis Gasgonia – ABS-CBN News

MANILA – The Philippines has a national ice hockey team and it’s aiming for the gold in the upcoming Southeast Asian Games in August.

French-Filipino Francois Gautier, general manager of Hockey Philippines, said they will be holding the Philippine Ice Hockey Tournament starting Wednesday to help prepare the team for the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Gautier said they will be tested against hockey teams from Korea, Taipei and Singapore. Some of these clubs are expected to field professional players.

“These teams that are coming are a lot stronger than the teams that we’re competing against in the SEA Games,” Gautier noted.

According to Gautier, Thailand is the heavy favorite in the biennial games, but is expected to face rough sailing due to a complaint it received in the Sapporo event.

Gautier noted that the Thai team brought five Swedish players in that event and if those players won’t be eligible for SEA Games, then the Philippines will come in as the favorites.

“I’m not gonna guarantee a gold, but that’s what we’re going for. We’re not going to settle for anything less,” he said.

It will be the first time that the Philippines is fielding an ice hockey team to compete at the SEA Games.

“The goal is to prepare the team for SEA Games. What better preparation than to play them against some really tough competition?” Gautier said at the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) forum at Golden Phoenix Hotel in Pasay City.

The Philippine team recently won bronze in the 2017 Winter Asian Games in Sapporo, Japan last February. Its best win was a rousing victory over Qatar, 14-2.

Peterborough player Mike Swift finds hockey success in South Korea

Mike Swift

By Mike Davies – Peterborough Examiner  

Mike Swift never quite reached his NHL dream but he’s making his mark in the hockey world in other ways.

Next year he’ll be on the ice with many of the world’s best at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea and 2018 IIHF World Hockey Championships in Denmark.

But the Peterborough native will not be wearing a Team Canada jersey – he’ll represent South Korea. He’ll be joined by Bryan Young, his teammate with High 1 of the Asian Hockey League. Young is an Ennismore native and former Peterborough Pete.

Swift, 30, scored the winning goal in a shootout against Ukraine that clinched second place for South Korea at the 2017 IIHF Division IA World Championship, earning a promotion to the top division next year against world powerhouses like Canada, the U.S., Russia, Sweden and Finland.

Swift moved to Korea in 2011, a year after Young, where the money is actually better for top players than in Europe and North American minor leagues with top players reported to receive upwards of $200,000 a season with all living expenses paid.

They were approached by the Korean hockey federation in 2013 to get their Korean citizenship in order to represent them internationally. With South Korea awarded the Olympics the federation wanted to ensure it iced a competitive team.

They first played for Korea in a Division IA world championship in 2014, when they lost every game and were relegated to Division 1B for 2015. Swift led the tournament in scoring in 2015 as South Korea won the tournament to get back to Division 1A for 2016. They beat Japan for the first time in their history at the 2016 tournament and finished with a 2-2-1 record. This year, they went 4-1-0, their lone loss to Austria, to earn promotion to the top division next year.

Swift says the team has come a long way since his first year when they lost every game.

“That was a real eye-opener,” said Swift. “We basically didn’t even touch the puck in five games. In that same division, four years later, we went 4-1.”

A big turning point, Swift said, was the hiring of former NHL players Jim Paek and Richard Park, both of Korean ancestry, as coaches.

“They brought a system with them and all the guys bought into the system that is working,” said Swift, one of five players on this year’s team not originally from Korea. “These guys in Korea can all skate and they can all shoot the puck, they just didn’t have a sense of direction. Now they have coaching that can tell them and they listen with the wealth of experience the coaching staff brings. All they needed was guidance. It’s part of the process of how we’ve grown.”

Korea is in a pool with Canada, Switzerland and Czech Republic for the Olympics. The NHL has stated it will not be sending its players which is a disappointment for Swift, although, he says he’ll play against NHL players at the worlds two months later.

“Obviously, you want to play against the best in the world with the NHL guys. At the same time it gives us a better chance of winning the games,” he said.

The country’s interest in hockey is growing because of the upcoming Olympics and the national team’s success, said Swift.

“We just made history moving up to the top division,” he said. “When I first came here no one knew anything about hockey. The players didn’t even really follow the NHL. Now, everyone is on their phones at practice watching the highlights or watching the games. With the time change, when I get to the rink in the morning there are NHL games on in North America. Now it’s 24/7 hockey hockey, hockey.”

Swift has become the Wayne Gretzky of the Asian Hockey League, winning the scoring title in five of his six seasons. His 208 goals in 259 games is 10 behind the league’s all-time leader Takeshi Saito who has played 493 games. Swift is 34 points behind Saito with 461. He also has 662 penalty minutes, 205 behind the career leader.

Now that he’s so close to the record Swift says he’d like to catch Saito, who is six years older and still playing.

“When I first went over to Korea I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anything about the country, the culture but now that I’ve been there for six years it would sort of put a stamp on my career,” Swift said.

Swift, who retained his Canadian citizenship, admits pulling on a Korean national jersey took some getting used to.

“It was different. I had mixed emotions,” he said. “Four years later, it feels natural because I spend nine months a year in Korea and I’ve been there for six years. I’m living in Korea more than I do Canada where I come home for three months in the summer.”

Czechs to teach Chinese ice hockey

By Prague Daily Monitor

Czechs will help Chinese develop their ice hockey skills before the 2022 Beijing Olympics under the memorandum signed by Martin Urban, general secretary of the Czech Association of Ice Hockey (CSLH), and his Chinese counterparts on Saturday.

The memorandum plans the organization of training camps for young ice hockey players and the exchange of coaches and methodological materials.

The cooperation will relate to the Czech club Bili Tygri Liberec and the Chinese Kunlun Red Star, which has been playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) since last year.

“This is a memorandum of cooperation between the Chinese ice hockey association and our ice hockey association,” Urban said.

As a large country, China has a big potential to be developed in ice hockey.

It has asked Canada, Russia and the Czech Republic for cooperation.

The project also wants more children to play ice hockey in China.

Everything is targeted on the 2022 Winter Olympics. As its organizer, China would like to take part in its ice hockey tournament.

“It is an interest of the International Olympic Committee that the organizer is represented in collective sports. Then China will certainly want to play a dignified role in this,” Urban said.

The memorandum sets down the spheres in which cooperation may be possible. Agreements will then be signed for specific projects.

Urban said a Chinese ice hockey delegation would visit the Czech Republic on May 22.

The information recently appeared that the Chinese CEFC Group, that has acquired the Czech football club Slavia Praha, would like to enter the Liberec ice hockey.

Men’s hockey team to open off-ice training camp next week

By Yoo Jee-ho – Yonhap News

Fresh off a promotion to the world’s top competition, the South Korean men’s national hockey team will open its off-ice training camp next week.

The Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA) said Thursday the players will report to Jincheon Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, some 90 kilometers south of Seoul, on Sunday. They will start their 11-week program the following day, through July 27.

Coached by former National Hockey League defenseman Jim Paek, South Korea finished in second place at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship Division I Group A tournament late last month in Ukraine. It elevated South Korea to the IIHF World Championship, the top-flight competition in men’s hockey, for next May.

Before the worlds, South Korea will make its Olympic debut on home ice at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games in February.

In Paek’s regime, improved conditioning and team speed have been cited as keys to South Korea’s success. In Ukraine, South Korea relied on its superior quickness to apply effective forechecking and staged some third-period comebacks against exhausted opponents.

For the upcoming camp, South Korea has recruited the help of EXOS, a U.S.-based training company, and its Korean trainer Lee Chang-ho will be on hand.

The KIHA said the focus of the off-ice training will be to help minimize the risk of injuries and improve players’ overall strength and agility.

It added that 23 players will first report to Jincheon, but up to two more players could be added during the course of the camp.

Following the camp, South Korea will travel to Europe on July 28. It will split its time in Russia and the Czech Republic, and play professional teams from those countries in practice games.

South Korea and China Chasing Hockey Dreams

By Matt Lerner – The Diplomat

As the next two hosts of the Winter Olympics, both countries are pushing to improve their ice hockey performances.

In February 2018 the South Korean men’s national ice hockey team will make its Olympic debut, hosting reigning gold medal champion Canada in Pyeongchang. Not a traditional hockey power by any means, the Koreans have spent the past seven years since being awarded the Olympics drastically improving their level of play, and have finally seen the results of those efforts. At the 2017 World Ice Hockey Championship, South Korea, playing in Division I A, the second tier of the tournament, managed to earn a promotion to the following year’s top level tournament, which is reserved for the best 16 hockey-playing nations in the world. Thus 2018 will mark both South Korea’s debut at the Olympics and the main World Championships.

How the Koreans achieved this rapid rise through the ranks (they were rated 31st in the world when awarded the Olympics in 2011, and will enter 2018 as the 18th best) is no secret. Like many other nations that don’t have a strong domestic hockey program, South Korea has spent the past several years recruiting North American hockey players to come and play for teams in the country, and then naturalizing them, allowing them to play for the national team (the International Ice Hockey Federation, the governing body of ice hockey, requires a player to spend at least two years in their new country before they can play for them internationally).

Thus the Korean team at the 2017 World Championship was dotted with notably un-Korean names like Bryan Young, Michael Swift, Matt Dalton, or most recently, Alex Plante. This is not an unusual situation, as four of the six teams at the Division I A tournament had naturalized players on their team, and historically other nations have done the same, though often with players who have some ancestral connection to the country.

The Koreans, though, brought in anyone willing to join them, which mainly consists of players who are unable to make a team in the United States’ National Hockey League (NHL), the top league in the world, or one of its minor league affiliates. While that seemed like a daunting issue for the upcoming Olympics, where it was presumed the NHL would allow its players to participate for the sixth consecutive time, in early April the league announced it would not participate in the next Winter Games. Thus the chances of the Koreans greatly improved.

The story of the South Korean plans for their Olympics also has an impact on the next host after them, Beijing, China, in 2022. Unlike the Koreans, who have strove to improve their national team, the Chinese hockey team has seen little improvement since they were awarded the Olympics in 2015; they are currently the 35th best team in the world, out of 48 countries that participated in 2017, and most recently earned promotion to Division II A, the fourth tier of the World Championship level.

However China does have the ability to make rapid strides if they so desire. The Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), widely regarded as the top league after the NHL, established a team in Beijing in 2016, Kunlun Red Star, which was supported by the Chinese government. In order to stock the team, several Canadians and Americans of Chinese ancestry were invited to try out, with two of them ultimately joining, as well as Rudi Ying, who was born in China and the first Chinese-born player in either the KHL or NHL.

This is a key component for the success of the Chinese national team, if they so desire. As noted the IIHF allows players to play internationally for a new country if they spend two years there, or four if they have already appeared in an international tournament. While it has proven difficult to attract players to the Beijing-based team, which has to fly several hours to play any other team, there are many Canadians and Americans with Chinese ancestry playing hockey who are a lot more willing to relocate to China, especially with the prospect of competing at the Olympics. To that end Kunlun announced in March they had hired former NHL and KHL champion coach Mike Keenan to head the team, with instructions to develop Chinese players in the coming years so they are ready for the Olympics. Keenan is known as a tough authoritarian coach, but able to get results, so it may be exactly the thing the Chinese need.

The use of imported players for national teams is a controversial one in some circles of international hockey, but as South Korea has shown, it can produce results. It remains to be seen if the Koreans will be competitive at the 2018 Winter Olympics, but without the NHL there they stand a far better chance now. Whether the Chinese want to follow the same path so they can put on a decent performance in 2022 is to be determined, though they certainly have the ability and the willpower to do so. Either way, hockey in East Asia is starting to be recognized as something to be aware of.

Tower in Korea’s defence

By Martin Merk

In 2007 Edmonton drafted Alex Plante in the first round, so playing international hockey isn’t a surprise. Just that his debut came 10 years later – with Korea.

The two-metre (6′7″) defenceman is not your typical Asia League player. Korea’s answer to Zdeno Chara stands out in size and he’s one of few players in league history with NHL experience even though he didn’t have his breakthrough in the NHL playing 10 games for the Edmonton Oilers in his four years in the organization.

After not getting the chance in the big league, he took in 2013 the path his father Cam had taken about 30 years earlier and moved from the AHL to Austria. After one season with Dornbirner EC he moved to Norway where he played one season with his brother, goalie Tyler Plante, for Lorenskog. Then he suddenly landed at Anyang Halla, Korea’s top club team in the Asia League, where he completed his second season and won the title earlier this month.

“I just signed a two-year deal with Anyang Halla. We’ve had a couple of good years there, we won the [Asia League] championship, the organization has been great, we absolutely love it,” Plante said about his experience.

Korea has made a name for itself in recent years for naturalizing players from its Asia League clubs and Plante is the newest addition. He missed the 2017 Asian Winter Games but got Korean citizenship one month ago and fulfilled the eligibility criteria after two seasons in Korea.

With goaltender Matt Dalton – arguably the most important addition last year – defencemen Plante, Eric Regan and Bryan Young as well as forward Michael Swift the Koreans have five Canada-born players on the roster. And that line-up doesn’t include forwards Brock Radunske and American-born Mike Testwuide, who missed out on the tournament this year due to injury. Add to that NHL experience behind the bench with Jim Paek and Richard Park, who were born in Korea but grew up and played in the United States and one can easily see that the ambitions are high one year before Korea hosts the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Since 2015 Plante lives in Anyang, a satellite city of Seoul. “It took time to adjust but we have nothing than good things to say, we feel safe. We have a nice little community and fan base and the club itself treats us very well. There was a little risk since we had no idea where we’re getting ourselves into but it definitely paid off,” Plante said about his decision. “The language itself has been a challenge, maybe some words I learned on the road. Basic words and locker room banter so far. The longer we’re there, the more we pick up.”

One word he learned is chamchi gimbap, which he calls his favourite Korean food. “It’s a little roll that has tuna, and, I can’t name all the stuff that’s inside, it looks like a reversed sushi. It’s traditional snack food in Korea but I can’t get enough of it,” he said.

Knowing about the Koreans’ desire to have him join the national team, he already played exhibition games with them before actually getting his passport.

“I’ve done it all year now with the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge and stuff like that. I look at this like I’m thankful to have this opportunity. It was a bit different in the beginning but I’ve been in Korea for two years, it’s been a great family for myself, my kids and my wife,” he said.

“Alex Plante has been a good addition to us,” said head coach Paek. “He has a big body and a lot of game experience, international and North American experience. That’s very good for us. He’s a leader on the team and becoming an important part.”

“The tournament gets harder and harder. Every game is a championship game. Our players work extremely hard. They’re a dream to the coach because they listened to the coach. I have to give all the credit to them. They try to get better all the time,” the coach added.

Korea improved over the last few years. Thanks but not only because of its imports because other players got better too. The first two offensive lines are made of native Koreans including Sanghoon Shin and Kisung Kim, the scoring leader and the top goal scorer of the Asia League playoffs respectively.

Although the team just ended up in fifth place in last year’s IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Katowice with tight standings, it was in contention for promotion until the very last day when losing the spot in the top division to Italy after a 2-1 loss against the Azzurri.

This year the team started well with two wins including the first-ever victory of Korea against Kazakhstan.

“It’s my first Worlds, I didn’t know that we wrote history. I’m just happy to be part of it. We just keep finding ways to get the bounces and to get them in. We’re going to enjoy this for a couple of minutes and then get ready for the next one. It’s a short tournament and we have to move on,” he said after scoring two goals in the victory against Kazakhstan.

“There’s no secret to success. We got systems in place we try to stick to as much as we can. It’s hard work and determination and the bounces went our way. We have a great goaltender, we definitely cannot forget about him, he gave us more than enough opportunities to get a win in both of these games. He’s been a huge piece for us and I hope we can help him out a little bit more.”

The word promotion wasn’t heard that often but the slogan hanging in front of the locker room is “Make Korea proud”.

“We came with the expectation to compete every night and let the results take care for themselves. The nation continues to get better. We’re getting more consistent, have more depth. It’s all new for me so I’m just here to enjoy and help as much as I can. Our goal as a country is to get better and better,” he said. “Ideally of course everybody would love to go up but we’re focusing period by period.”

The next period comes soon. After beating one of the two teams that came down from the top division, they will play the next one today, Hungary, at 17:00 local time (16:00 in Hungary, 23:00 in Korea).

The current road clearly goes to PyeongChang 2018 where Korea wants to be competitive against nations that are even higher ranked than the ones here. They’re seeded in a group with defending champion Canada, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.

“It’s our big goal but we’re looking now where we are at. It’s in the back of our mind. This tournament here is a step to competing at the Olympics,” he said.

And if Korea continues to play well here in Kyiv, they may play at the top level next year not only as the host at the Olympics but also as one of the teams promoted to the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Denmark.

Lebanon Beats Haiti for Historic First International Victory

By Steve Ellis –

Lebanon can officially join the history books thanks to a historic debut victory over Haiti in Raymond Bourque Arena in Saint-Laurent, Quebec on Sunday evening.

The game was the first official international competition for both of the teams. Lebanon did play their first ever hockey game a week ago against Maghreb United, who were made up of players from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Lebanon took the 8-3 victory in that game, giving them their first win of any type.

On Sunday, both teams took to the ice for the first time, with Haiti sporting Georges Laraque in the one-off event. Lebanon would get the best of their opponents, taking the 7-4 victory in the process.

While long-term plans for Haiti’s ice hockey team are unknown, Lebanon is hoping to play some teams in the future. Coach Ralph Melki told Euro Hockey that Israel, Egypt and Morocco have all inquired about playing Lebanon in future exhibition games, but nothing has been firmed up.

Video footage of the end of the game can be found here.

India’s Ice Hockey Team Has No Money Again & It’s Sad The Sports Ministry Won’t Help

By Pulasta Dhar – Scoop Whoop News

It has been five years since India won its first international ice hockey match. It’s been nine years since they’ve been participating in the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia. Last month, the women’s team finished a respectable 4th in the 7-team Challenge Cup held in Thailand.

But all these achievements have not registered with sports ministry – which still fails to recognise the Ice Hockey Association of India. And this means they’re forced to raise funds themselves to keep going.

At the time of writing this story, the Indian men’s ice hockey team is in desperate need of Rs 12 lakh to confirm its participation in the 2017 IIHF Challenge Cup in Kuwait. They’ve already spent Rs 26 lakh on training in Kyrgyzstan.

The team has already spent most of their personal funds on training well. Now, with just a week before the Kuwait tournament, they are falling short of 12 lakhs INR to participate in the tournament. They need this fund to pay for their travel tickets, visa, equipment and coach,” a press release said – urging people to donate.

Scoopwhoop News had reported on the Indian women’s ice hockey team in May 2016 – and nothing has changed since then.

In a detailed statement, the Ice Hockey Federation of India has further pointed out the situation they find themselves in…

Indian Ice Hockey Team rides on the sheer will of 22 young Indian players from the Himalayan region of India. They invest their own money, their parents’ savings, the support of their well wishers (and) meager sponsorships to proudly wear the Indian jersey in international arenas. And force the world to stand up and take note of India’s talent. And climb the ladder of ranking one tournament at a time. The only saving grace in this dismal scenario has been the generosity of spirit of the common India public. Who have been contributing in crowd funding campaigns to keep the hopes of Indian Ice Hockey teams alive. Again. And again.

But what is truly sad is that the government, despite a massive push in other sports, has hardly taken notice of ice hockey.

Despite ice hockey being a sport that could flourish in north India, all the Indian team has is one rink in Dehradun to practice on – and that too, has been shut for the past 5 years. This means the teams have to go abroad and use facilities in other countries to train.

It’s so bad that the women’s team trained on a frozen lake in Leh to prepare for tournaments.

Participation is essential for the growth of the Sport. Few wins and we hope the government and Indian sports enthusiasts will be taking note of this sport. Ice Hockey being the fastest contact team sport, this Winter Olympic sport will soon become popular in India. What this sport needs is the attention of investors and it would be as popular in India, as NHL is in North America,” general secretary of Ice Hockey Association of India Harjinder Singh said.

Just seven days are left for the team to prepare for the tournament in Kuwait. Seven days to get enough funds and hope that they can participate in an international tournament – something that should be their right in a country where sport is flourishing. And it’s sad that one sport, which clearly has potential, is being completely ignored.

Click here if you want to donate to the ice hockey team

With improved fitness, skills, S. Korean women’s hockey continues growth

South Korea's Park Jong-ah (C) celebrates her goal against Britain with teammates Park Chae-lin (L) and Han Soo-jin at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women's World Championship Division II Group A at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on April 3, 2017. (Yonhap)

By Yoo Jee-ho – Yonhap News

Two games into the women’s hockey world championships on home ice this week, it’s been quite evident that South Korea has become an infinitely better team since its last international competition less than two months ago.

South Korea has defeated Slovenia 5-1 and then Britain 3-1 to open the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Championship Division II Group A in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. With two consecutive wins and three matches remaining, the host nation has positioned itself to capture the tournament and earn a promotion to Division I Group B next year.

Coached by former U.S. collegiate star Sarah Murray, South Korea finished fourth at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, two months ago. It was the country’s best showing ever at the continental event.

And South Korea showed up at the world championships even better than before. It bodes well for a young squad preparing for an Olympic debut in the same city of Gangneung next year. The world No. 23 may not win a game against Sweden, Switzerland and Japan, all top-10 countries, but South Korea may also avoid embarrassment of losing by double figures, which used to be a regular occurrence not that long ago.

Murray, daughter of the former NHL head coach Andy Murray, attributed the success so far here to improved conditioning. The national team hired a new strengthening coach to push the players more, after their fitness level emerged as an issue during the Asian Games.

With five games in seven days during the world championships, conditioning is at a premium.

“We definitely cranked up the players’ conditioning,” Murray said Sunday. “Our new strengthening coach has been doing a really great job of pushing the players.”

   The speed has always been the strength of the team, and now the players are able to compete at a fast pace for a longer stretch of time.

That clearly helped the offense against Slovenia, as South Korea fired on all cylinders and outshot the helpless opponent 78-12. With newfound strength, South Koreans are now able to get more zip behind their shots and passes.

And the added strength helped the players withstand some early pressure against physical Britain on Monday. With bigger players in its lineup, Britain applied a strong forechecking and controlled the neutral zone from the opening face-off.

Instead of running out of gas against that sort of pressure, the South Koreans took what the Brits gave them and then responded with two goals late in the first period.

At the center of the team’s progress has been forward Kim Hee-won, a 15-year-old phenom, who has scored a goal in each of the first two games. One of eight teenagers on the 22-player squad, Kim has gone from a wild player with raw talent to a precocious attacker who plays with controlled abandon.

Kim’s confidence has been palpable so far at the tournament. She has been firing shots from all over the ice — a tournament-best 14 shots — and she has demonstrated some nifty moves to dance through multiple players to create chances for herself and teammates.

Kim, at 170 centimeters tall with a booming shot, plays the right point on power plays, and has made smart decisions when helping out on defense with her positioning and stick work. She’s also hard to knock off the puck, as attested by her brilliant wraparound goal late in the third period against Britain, when she shed a defenseman behind the net and made a difficult shot look shockingly easy.

Kim said extra off-ice work — involving plenty of running and cycling — has done wonders to her overall game.

“I feel exhausted just thinking about our training regimen,” Kim said with a smile Monday. “But all that hard work is paying off now. It’s given me confidence that I can go up against bigger players and win those battles.”

   Kim spent the Asian Winter Games on the second line with Han Soo-jin as the center. But with the usual first-line forward Caroline Park out with a shoulder injury this week, Han was promoted to the top line, and third-line center Jo Su-sie joined Kim and Choi Ji-yeon on the second line.

That unit went berserk against Slovenia, combining for three goals and two assists with 18 shots fired. They were a combined plus-six for the game.

Murray then made the Jo-Kim-Choi line her top offensive unit against Britain. Kim delivered a goal, while Jo picked up an assist. In those two games, Jo has won 27 of 33 face-offs to lead the team.

Kim, who hadn’t even been old enough to play internationally until Sapporo, said playing at the Asian Games has helped her prepare for the worlds mentally.

“I wasn’t so nervous before this competition because I’d already played in a big tournament,” she said. “It puts some pressure on me to play on the first line, but I just want to reward my coach’s faith.”

   Murray, for her part, said Kim can only get better from here.

“She has so much skill and so much potential,” the coach said. “Now she has newfound confidence and hunger. She wants to shoot the puck. She wants to score. I am really proud of how she’s stepped up at this tournament so far.”

   Murray added that Kim, as a young player, should try to keep her focus on the right place at all times. Kim may do well to emulate Park Jong-ah, one of the team’s best scorers who quietly leads by example.

Park leads the team with three points on two goals and an assist. The second of those two goals was the result of a tremendous individual effort against Britain; she picked up the loose puck in the neutral zone, sped down the right wing and then cut to the middle past defenders before firing one to the top shelf.

Park shrugged off her highlight-reel goal as “a lucky break,” saying she only had the opportunity because her teammates did all the work.

Park said the team is clearly playing with more cohesion than ever before.

“We all knew our system at the Asian Games, too, but we hadn’t yet made full adjustments at the time,” she said. “We had some holes here and there, and we plugged them before the world championships. As individuals, we all tried to minimize our mistakes, and it’s worked out well so far.”

   South Korea finished second at last year’s Division II Group A event, losing out to Poland in a tiebreaker despite posting an identical record of four wins and a loss.

Park said the goal all along has been to win it all this time and do so convincingly.

“We’ve been training hard to win this tournament with a perfect record,” she said. “It won’t be easy, but I think we can do it.”

Toronto-born hockey player wants to do Korea proud at Olympics

By The Korean Herald

It was a symbolic moment in South Korean women’s hockey at the world championships in Gangneung, and one that the country would love to see often at the Winter Olympics on home ice next year.

There was Randi Griffin, born in the United States to a Korean mother and an American father, flying down the right wing in a 2-on-1 chance against Slovenia on Sunday. She then threaded a perfect pass to Danelle Im, a Canadian native of Korean descent, who slapped it home to give South Korea a 4-1 lead.

The host went on to beat Slovenia 5-1 to start the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship Division II Group A at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, while outshooting the opponent 78-12.

And Im and Griffin, who have been fast-tracked to South Korean citizenship in preparation for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, contributed to the offensive onslaught. Both have played in friendly games for South Korea before, but this is their first international tournament in South Korean uniform.

Im is on track to represent the country of her parents’ birth at next year’s Olympics, and the Toronto native wants to do her adopted home proud.

“I think we need to just focus on our playing to get better each day and to be able to put our best version of this team forward to the Olympics,” she said. “We must wear this jersey proudly and put up a really good competition.”

Putting up a good competition won’t be as easy as it sounds. At No. 23 in the world, South Korea wouldn’t have been good enough to qualify for the Olympics, but it has received an automatic spot as the host. It has been paired in Group B with Sweden, Switzerland and Japan, ranked No. 5, 6 and 7, respectively, in the world today.

A win in the group stage may be asking too much, but at least South Korea, once a perennial doormat that routinely lost by double digits, has worked its way to respectability with Sarah Murray, former US college star and daughter of ex-NHL head coach Andy Murray, at the helm.

South Korea finished fourth at the Sapporo Asian Winter Games in February, the country’s best result ever at the continental event. Though Im couldn’t play there because of eligibility rules, she said she can clearly see the progress the team has made.

“It’s from hard work the players have been putting in every day,” she said. “It’s great to see the improvements and the work that they’ve put in.”

Im’s presence on the national team represents a new direction for women’s hockey in the country. She joins Griffin; Caroline Park, another Canadian-born player; and Marissa Brandt, a Korean-born adoptee, in the ranks of foreign nationals of Korean descent who have acquired South Korean passports.

The national team is counting on these players to rely on their experience in North American hockey — Im played at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, while Griffin played at Harvard — to help the young squad get to the next level. The team of 22 players here features eight teenagers.

Im, 24, said she’s aware of the pressure, but she isn’t daunted by it.

“The expectation is for us to contribute, just like any other person,” she said of herself and her naturalized teammates. “We feel honored to be here, and we want to do our best to be able to contribute as much as we can.”

Im played through a hairline fracture in her right foot, and pain or not, she is simply “grateful” to be representing the country of her parents’ birth.

“Just to be here is so amazing; to be with the team and experience everything with the world championships,” said Im. “I am really grateful to be here, and to play even a few shifts was really awesome.”

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