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Durban Sandshark

Jim Paek, Sarah Murray, and the South Korean Hockey Teams

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Going to be very interesting how the men's and women's South Korean ice hockey teams will fare against the best of the best, mostly Canada, the USA, and the European powers, being the second Asian nation to host the Winter Olympics outside of Japan. And how the Seoul-born 2x Stanley Cup winner Paek (with the Pittsburgh Penguins) will lead the men and run the overall KIHA program. Thanks to KIHA presenting a comprehensive four-year plan to intensify the game's development and progress in South Korea, the IIHF granted both the men's and women's team automatic entry as hosts as the last seed partly because of the need to expand and expose further awareness of ice hockey and the growth of the sport there in Asia. Like with the NHL. At least Japan had some serious international practice over the years at the top level by being at the World Ice Hockey Championships getting the sole Asian spot until over a decade. But they always finished at or near last place there. Sure there's a domestic league and an Asian League. But South Korea (and much of Asia), ranked 23rd among 49 national men's teams in the IIHF rankings, has ways to go with South Korea lacking the top level international ice hockey pedigree in its daunting task. Not like field hockey here, where there is some strong international pedigree. In short South Korean ice hockey is behind the eight ball, as Paek says, and prepare.

Obviously won't be medal faves; it's also wise to focus on the grassroots too for the long terms. They just wish to be competitive with minimal blowouts. One issue I read of why South Korea hadn't been at the top level and competitive there is many of its promising players had to enlist in the military service, effectively killing any further opportunity at a time for improvement. Seems as though they always are stuck being with the Australians, the Lithuanians, Chinese, the Brits, the Kiwis, the Dutch, the Kazaks, the Hungarians, the Japanese, and the Croatians. Having an NHL player in it during this span will help, as Croatia just did in Borna Randulic with the Colorado Avalanche. That, like Anze Kopitar for Slovenia as a 2x Stanley Cup winner for the LA Kings, would be a best-case scenario in such a short amount of time.

Because of that serious gap in talent, the women will get hit hard. Korean Ice Hockey Association just named its coach back in November in 27-year old Sarah Murray, daughter of NHL Hall of Famer coach Andy Murray, to a two-year contract. And her big challenge as coach like with any non-traditional and inexperienced women's ice hockey nation is building up a professionalized, competitive team and do everything involved building with the young women's program while focusing on short-term success. Good news for both is time on their side to be competitive.

http://www.iihf.com/home-of-hockey/news/news-singleview/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=9122&cHash=2c97e4185e1bbeb22d592cba80b33af4

http://www.iihf.com/home-of-hockey/news/news-singleview/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=9182&cHash=9f024abeab1e887de0e2d92aa7d447db

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/15/sports/hockey/jim-paek-is-building-south-korean-hockey-program.html?_r=0

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South Korea is right now playing in Eindhoven, Netherlands at the Ice Sports Centre for the IIHF World Ice Hockey Men's Tournament D1 Group B division. At 3 games, Jim Paek's guys are 2-1 with very strong wins over Estonia (7-3) and hosts Netherlands (7-1) before falling to Great Britain 3-2. Had a 2-0 lead before standing leaders Team GB stormed back. Next game up is Lithuania Saturday.

The women played in Dumfries, England for the women's D2 Group A level in late March-early April. South Korea finished third behind promoted Kazakhstan and Great Britain. Started rough with the first two losses but got much better with wins against Poland, New Zealand, and Croatia.

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South Korea wins promotion to 2016 IIHF Division 1A after beating 9-4 on Croatia and waiting for Lithuania knock off Great Britain 3-2 with only a point separating the two teams coming in on the final day of competition in Eindhoven, Netherlands. The hosts Dutch, by the way, were relegated.

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Some interesting developments involving South Korean ice hockey have occurred lately since my last post here as we keep look forward to Pyongchang.

South Korea's U20 men's national team, coached by Paek, got relegated to the 2017 Group B Division II last month in Elektrenai, Lithuania after a winless campaign after five games that saw two of its games head into overtime (The Netherlands and hosts Lithuania) in a tournament that saw Hungary dominate on Lithuania, Estonia, South Korea, Croatia, and The Netherlands and win promotion. We may see some of these players came up from these ranks in a couple of years.

Seoul could very well get a team in the KHL come 2017 or 2018 after Beijing enters next season as part of the Russian-dominated league's Asian expansion. If done right and can drum sufficient interest, it can be a tremendous boon to the sport's development in the nation with hopes of boosting the program and interest and thus may end up calling the proposed 20,000-seat Seoul Arena home eventually. May serve as first claim for the league before the NHL drums up re-interest in the Asian market by Pyongchang, assuming if the NHL allows its players to compete in the Olympics again.

The South Koreans were competitive but didn't win a game in their Euro Ice Hockey Challenge appearance in Katowice, Poland early November against Poland, Austria (2-1 loss in overtime), and Slovenia.

There's already a KHL and South Korea connection with Vladivostock Admiral selecting Korean forward Chong Hyun Lee, who's currently not on the national team, in the 2013 draft. In the Asia League Ice Hockey, there's 3 teams from South Korea: Anyang Halla, Daemyung Sangmu Seoul, and High1.

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The South Korean men score a historic first-ever win over Japan 3-0 that supplants the Japanese, who are now winless in 3 games and must fight for survival with the likes of Italy and Poland, as the undisputed best East Asian team at the D1 Group A IIHF Tournament in Katowice, Poland today. Certainly the South Korean program came a long way after losing 25-0 to Japan in their first official game together back in 1982 in Jaca, Spain in the C-Pool and moved up gradually since.

What also helps them has been the better and more frequent competition like in the Asia League with more roster for South Korean ice hockey to develop South Korean hockey players (especially younger ones) and the influx of 6 South Korean-based pro hockey players in recent years that were eventually naturalized and short term-wise improves the national fortunes. South Korea is at 2-1, tied with Austria

http://wmia2016.iihf.com/en/games/2016-04-26/kor-vs-jpn/#recap

This is one of these naturalized South Korean players with an eye on Pyongchang. Meet #1 goalie and Clinton, Ontario native Matt Dalton:

http://wmia2016.iihf.com/en/news/koreas-hope-in-the-net/

South Korea's women also improved under Sarah Murray earlier this month. Finishing a strong second in Bled, Slovenia behind Poland (but ahead of Great Britain) in a goal differential tiebreaker despite sharing the same record. Losing only to Poland but beating North Korea, Slovenia, Great Britain, and winless Croatia. But the South Koreans don't get promoted to next year's Division I Group B that their Polish counterparts did.


There are plans to bring a fourth South Korean-based Asia League club in the Pyongchang/Gangneung area to use one of the Olympic venues after the Winter Olympics. Daemyung Sangmu was formed with hockey players having to serve in the South Korean Army. All three South Korean-based Asia League club teams play in Seoul region

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South Korea's men were a surprise winner in the 5-team Budapest Euro Ice Hockey Challenge back in November over Austria, Hungary, Italy, Denmark, and Poland during the international break that month. Beat Hungary in the final:

http://wmia2017.iihf.com/en/news/korea-wins-in-budapest/

Come April, South Korea will take part in the 2017 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships Division I Group A in Kyiv, Ukraine with hosts Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Kazakhstan. All games will be at Kyiv's longstanding Palace of Sport. Given that South Korea just won the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge, with several of these same nations it's facing again, it's increasingly hard not to take South Korea seriously, even if it winds up falling just short of the top two spots for advancement to the top level. If Jim Paek's guys do accomplish this, a great, unprecedented achievement obviously is made in time for 2018 and to further build upon it for Asian ice hockey as a whole.

There's been one South Korean player who witnessing the positive culture change towards the national team in many ways brought upon by Paek and his fellow Korean-descended former NHL player in Richard Park (Minnesota Wild) as his assistant. And that person is veteran forward and team leader Kisung Kim from Seoul and Asia League's Anyang Halla. Even played pro hockey in the CHL with the Tulsa Oilers and Finland second division team Metsis. His story is nothing new to any rising hockey nation like South Korea's:

http://wmia2017.iihf.com/en/news/part-of-the-change/

To further assure the South Koreans put their best foot forward competition-wise against the pedigreed big boys and avoid being embarassed at home that could negatively impact the sport publicly, it's got six Canadians and one American under South Korean passports to qualify for the national team while playing professionally for South Korean clubs after stints in the NHL, KHL, AHL, and various European pro leagues. They also provide much-needed size to an Asian squad built on speed. And there's emerging younger local talent coming:

http://www.thehockeynews.com/news/article/hired-guns-south-korea-has-loaded-up-on-canadian-hockey-talent-ahead-of-hosting-the-2018-olympics

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The good times keep rolling for South Korean ice hockey as they continue to improve on the world scene leading up to being the Pyeongchang hosts and hopefully beyond. I will get more details about the latest exploits next week. But South Korea actually won a stunning promotion to the ultimate level of IIHF hockey in Kiev, Ukraine for the first time ever with Austria next year bound for Denmark, becoming the first Asian nation at that level Japan in 1998-2004 with the South Koreans now overtaking the Japanese as the top Asian ice hockey nation. 

South Korea is now ranked 22nd with 1915 points in the IIHF Women's World Ranking, up a spot ahead of the British women who tumbled two spots after the Women's World Ice Hockey Championships in multiple levels.

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