ANYANG – Anyang Halla has defended its Asia League title after beating Morskie Lvy Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk 3-0 in the best-of-five final. It’s the third championship for the Korean team and it’s only the second time a club has won back-to-back championships in the Asia League after now-defunct Kokudo Tokyo in 2005 and 2006.
The nine-team league included four club teams from Japan, three from Korea, one from China and one from the Russian island of Sakhalin.
In the end it was the two teams that dominated the league who found the way into the gold medal series. Anyang had a 41-7 record in the regular season, Sakhalin was second with a 36-12 record followed by the four Japanese teams Oji Eagles, defending champion Tohoku Freeblades, the Nippon Paper Cranes and the Nikko Ice Bucks. The two other Korean teams High1 from Goyang and the Daemyung Killer Whales missed the playoffs as did the China Dragon.
Anyang Halla finished the post season undefeated after beating the Tohoku Freeblades 2-0, 6-2 and 4-1 in the semi-finals where Sakhalin eliminated the Nikko Ice Bucks also in three games.
Anyang had home-ice advantage for the first three games in the finals and made use of it. After defeating the team from Sakhalin 6-2 and 4-0 during the weekend, everything looked set for a championship party in Game 3 for the team of Czech coach Patrick Martinec, who was also part of the championship-winning teams in 2010 (as a player) and 2011 (as an assistant coach).
But it wasn’t that easy. Eric Regan and Sang Hoon Shin brought Anyang the lead twice but the Russians answered with goals from Timofei Shishkanov and Ruslan Bernikov forcing overtime. There Korean national team veteran Ki Sung Kim scored the championship-winning goal for Anyang Halla on the power play at 2:57 and became the playoff’s top goal scorer with five markers. His teammate Sang Hoon Shin was the scoring leader in the playoffs with ten points while Sang Wook Kim co-lead the regular season in scoring with Tohoku’s Matt Pope, both with 68 points, and was named MVP of the regular season. Former KHL player Ruslan Bernikov, who captained the team from Sakhalin, was the best goal scorer in the regular season with 36 markers.
Once dominated by North American imports, the top-five scorers of Anyang were Koreans this year followed by the likes of Mike Testwuide, Eric Regan and Alex Plante, who today received Korean citizenship and could potentially represent the country soon. Brock Radunske missed the last part of the season due to injury.
Anyang Halla also had the best goaltender in Matt Dalton, who had a 93.85 save percentage in the regular season – a number that even rose to 95.93 in playoff play and earned him a Playoff MVP award. For the Ontario-born netminder it was his third and strongest season in the Asia League. He has in the meantime obtained Korean citizenship and plays a key role on the Korean national team that will compete in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games on home ice and later this month in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.
With the season finished in the Asia League, it’s now time for the national teams. While Korea will compete for promotion to the top division in Kyiv from 22 to 28 April against Hungary, Kazakhstan, Poland, Austria and host Ukraine, the Japanese national team hopes for an immediate return to the second tier.
Japan will play in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Belfast from 23 to 29 April against host Great Britain, Lithuania, Croatia, Estonia and the Netherlands.