SEOUL – In six years the hockey world will descend on Korea. PyeongChang has been chosen as host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics and the country’s national sporting body has spared no expense in developing young talent in both the men’s and women’s game.
For Korea, the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend provided the perfect opportunity to scout and develop players.
A crop of 20 girls aged 10-15 hit the ice at the Taereung Ice Rink in the National Athletic Training Centre in Seoul, a high-performance facility to develop future sports stars. And teaming up with members of the current women’s national team for some specialist one-on-one training provided the youngsters with the inspiration to pursue hockey.
“It was different to compared to club hockey,” said 13-year-old Seunghee Hong. “There is more to learn and to be coached by a national player one-on-one helped me a lot to improve my skills.”
For fellow junior Min-A Park, the event gave her the opportunity to play without any added pressures.
“I feel comfortable because only female players are here. I learned a lot from the national team players and I will also spend more time to be a better player.”
That sentiment was shared by the senior team players themselves.
“It was our first time to share our skills with youth players and it was a really meaningful time for both,” said national team captain Kyousun Lee, whose team ranks 26th in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking.
“I am certain that this event will encourage young players to enjoy hockey more than ever.”
In the lead-up to the Olympics, Korea has also been developing its off-ice capabilities. Sporting director Younnie Lee spent three months in Vancouver observing the city’s hosting duties in 2010.
National team head coach Youngoh Kim says this preparation will bode well, and coupled with regular training, will translate into on-ice success.
“It is definitely a good opportunity for the girls to be trained like their national team counterparts,” Kim said.
“We have the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea and we will do our best to develop our game performance.
“This kind of event is also a very good chance for me to see all female hockey players in Korea , and if there are any good players who have potential, I will consider recruiting them as a national team player,” he said.
Indeed, one of the parents was particularly keen on her daughter’s talents.
“My daughter currently plays hockey in a club team but this event was a very rare chance to be coached by the national team, so my daughter really wanted to join in,” said Kyungsoon Lee.
“I no doubt think it was fun for my daughter and hope she improves and someday becomes a national team player.”
For a nation of some 48 million people – and relatively few female players – there’s certainly time to grow hockey before 2018 rolls around.
Click here for the World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend tracker.