JINCHEON, South Korea, Jan. 10 (Korea Bizwire) – The South Korean men’s national hockey team returned from a December tournament with three losses in three games, but the players still held their heads high, confident in their knowledge that even the world’s top players are still human.
And that confidence will be crucial as the team gears up for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics next month.
At the Channel One Cup in Moscow last month, 21st-ranked South Korealost to top-ranked Canada 4-2, to No. 3-ranked Sweden 5-1 and fourth-ranked Finland 4-1.
But South Korea led Canada 2-1 after one period, to the shock of some Korean players themselves, and defenseman Lee Don-ku thinks the tournament was a good learning experience for the team, as South Korea prepares for a rematch against Canada at the Olympics.
“I used to think the Canadian players were just hockey machines,” Lee said Wednesday at an open house day at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, some 90 kilometers south of Seoul.
“But they were human after all. They still made mistakes,” Lee added. “If we can pounce on their mistakes in PyeongChang, we can produce some good results. At the Channel One Cup, I think we all learned what we must do to play well at the Olympics.”
Besides Canada, South Korea will also face No. 6 Czech Republic and No. 7 Switzerland in PyeongChang. The odds are stacked against South Korea, but captain Park Woo-sang echoed Lee’s sentiment, saying his team could have had better results with a few more games at the Channel One Cup.
“Canada, Sweden and Finland all had great skills but we held our ground in terms of endurance and conditioning,” Park said. “We’re not going into the Olympics thinking we’ll lose. Everyone is pulling for one another.”
Park said South Korea’s biggest strength is speed and the players have to exploit that edge against bigger and stronger opponents.
Michael Swift, a Canadian-born forward who has acquired South Koreancitizenship, said he can’t wait to see the hard work over the past four years finally bear fruit at the Olympics.
“We’ve done all the work together as a team, and it’s something pretty special,” he said. “Hopefully, we can continue that in the Olympics. We just have to play hard every game and play our system. It’s a great honor that we’ve even got to this point. Every game we play, we want to win.”
Kim Ki-sung, the top line forward playing alongside his brother, Kim Sang-wook, and U.S.-born forward Mike Testwuide, said South Korea should tighten its defense and look to create counterattack opportunities from there. Kim Ki-sung added that if all goes well, making an improbable run, like the men’s football team’s march into the semifinals at the 2002 FIFAWorld Cup, isn’t out of question.
“If we get past the group stage, then it’ll be a knockout tournament and you never know what can happen once we get there,” he said. “We want to do as well as the football team did at the 2002 World Cup.”