GANGNEUNG – Korea’s women’s national team finished its season on a high note and now will prepare to host the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, after winning the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A on the final day with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands.
Forward Soo Jin Han scored both of Korea’s goals in the game, and goaltender Do Hee Han made 11 saves for the shutout.
“I can’t believe this experience,” said Han after the game. “Last year we weren’t able to win the tournament, because of that we discussed how to prepare and how to be better in every game. We began by focusing game-by-game and kept this focus that’s why we are here now.”
The championship victory means that Korea will compete in Division I next year – the highest level that the women’s program has ever reached in 14 years of IIHF competition. Gaining promotion on home ice in the Olympic venue of Kwangdong Arena, which will host the women’s ice hockey tournament next year, the emotion was visible as the team celebrated.
"I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little nervous going into this tournament,” said Randi Griffin, who played college hockey before joining the national team after a few years away from hockey.
“Getting used to be back in high pressure situations took some time but it’s really exciting to be with this group at this stage in the development of the program, because there’s so much passion and this team is overwhelmed right now, you can see girls crying with joy and it’s great to see.”
Korea came into the game riding high and atop the standings after wins over Slovenia (5-1), Great Britain (2-1), Australia (8-1), and DPR Korea (5-0).
Meanwhile the Netherlands also held an undefeated record in four games and was counting on their offensive star Julie Zwarthoed (3G+5A=8 points) to lead the team to a return to Divison I after being relegated last year.
But the Dutch weren’t able to figure out goaltender Do Hee Han, who had allowed just three goals in four games, and was playing in front of a Korean defensive corps that gave up just 60 shots on net total.
Following a scoreless first period, the Dutch began to put the pressure on Korea in the second, while limiting the number of quality scoring chances on their own end. Still the best chance of the period came on a breakaway from Korea, which passed under the goalie but rang off the post.
“I think in the first period the girls were really stressed and were gripping their sticks really tight,” said head coach Sarah Murray. “It’s the first time since I’ve been coaching that we went into a final game not needing to score three goals to win a tiebreaker. We had to win the game to win the championship and I think the girls were stressed out a bit.”
“They knew that the Netherlands was a big, fast team and that this would also be the hardest game of the tournament.”
It would be Korea that broke the deadlock with 3:56 left in the second period, following a point shot from 24 that caused a scramble in front on the net. Han was there to put away the rebound in front of the net for the 1-0 lead.
Up 1-0 after two periods, the Koreans added an insurance goal early in the third period after having one called back for a kicking motion. On the power play Jongah Park held the puck behind the Dutch net and found Han with a crisp pass for the 2-0 lead and Han’s second of the game.
Great Britain defeated Australia 5-3 in its final game, giving the team enough points to leapfrog DPR Korea for the bronze medal.
DPR Korea avoided relegation with a big 4-2 win in the final day against Slovenia, eventually finishing ahead of Slovenia and Australia, who lost out in the tiebreaker with the Slovenes and will move down to Group B.