Korean hockey is on its first step to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics when the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A opens in Goyang.
The host nation’s men’s national team is aiming for its best result ever and wants to prove that it could potentially compete with the strongest nations at the Olympics in four years. The tournament in Korea for the top teams ranked behind the 16 that qualified for the top division in Minsk will be a great stage to show how much the Korean team has improved.
At the event one year ago in Budapest, Hungary, Korea ended up in fifth place with two wins and three losses. Never before has the team been ranked as high and the Koreans hope to improve even more on home ice.
It is not an easy goal though. The Korean team is still seen as the underdog. Austria and Slovenia both performed in the Sochi Olympics – the latter team particularly well. Hungary has a 9-1-1 record against Korea and some of their players compete in top European leagues such as the Finnish Liiga and the German DEL.
Ukraine is the last-seeded team but played in the top division from 2002 to 2007 and in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
It will be interesting to see the Asian rivalry against Japan, which has never lost a game to Korea in men’s World Championship competition, Olympic Qualification and Asian Winter Games.
Although Korea is not the favourite, the hosts hope that its speed, along with the welcome boost from three naturalized Canada-born players will help win games and fulfill the expectations of achieving the best placement ever.
Brock Radunske of Asia League team Anyang Halla became a Korean citizen already in March last year. He scored three goals and had two assists in 2013 Division I play when he played for the Korean national team the first time.
Michael Swift and Bryan Young of High1 Chuncheon are the two latest additions. Both have been living and playing in Korea for several years and are now eligible to represent their adopted country. Swift is a talented player and one of the best scorers of the Asia League of the last three years. Bryan Young will be a helpful player on the defensive side.
The three Korean-Canadians are also expected to improve the team’s penalty killing, which has been a weakness in the past with a success rate of just 73.91 per cent last year.
Korea has not only new players but also a third club team in the country that competes in a professional environment. Despite a thin roster, Seoul-based Daemyung Sangmu reached second place in the Asia League and its core players will join the national team. Donku Lee became the first Korean player to win Best Defenceman honours in the Asia League and Minho Cho was ranked second in assists. Although Kisung Kim missed significant parts of the season due to injury, he recorded 10 goals and 14 assists in 19 games. Team captain Yongjun Lee played both as forward and defencemen and collected 35 points (3 goals, 32 assists).
The Korean men’s national team has improved continuously since 2010 when it managed to avoid relegation in Division I play in Slovenia for the first time. In 2011 it won bronze in its Division I group in Hungary. When the groups were tiered for 2012 the Koreans won the Division I Group B in Poland to earn promotion to Division I Group A where the team managed to stay last year thanks to the first-ever victory against Hungary and a win against Great Britain.
In these years the Korean team rapidly jumped from 33rd to 23rd place in the IIHF World Ranking. Now the team hopes to continue writing history and reaching new heights.