This season ice hockey continued as usual with the Korean teams in the Asia League. Many of the North American import players, some of them naturalized and eligible to play for the national team, stayed in the league and new one like Alexander Frolov came to play in Korea.
On the national team returning head coach Jim Paek started a rejuvenation season with more home-grown talent. In the international media the focus was often on players born in North America. That view didn’t live up to the fact that there are native Korean players who have performed strong on the national team during the past few years, especially offensively with players such as the brothers Kisung and Sangwook Kim. And players like them are now among the leaders to rebuild a new team with the aim to make it back to the top-level World Championship and qualify for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
“We came here for promotion and to win the tournament and I think we will to go up again,” said team captain Sangwook Kim.
The Koreans had good preparation also this year including an international tournament on home ice with the Legacy Cup in February at the Gangneung Hockey Centre to celebrate the legacy of the Olympic Winter Games. The Korea Ice Hockey Association aims at finding a deal with the owner to run the arena and make it a new centre for ice hockey in the country where ice hockey has traditionally been concentrated around the Seoul region.
The Koreans had a great start against Hungary. Although the opponent was stronger, the Koreans earned the lead twice and increased the score to 5-1 on counter-attacks. It’s what one could call the best-case scenario for this Korean teams with its fast skaters.
For Sangwook Kim it went particularly well as the scored two goals and had two assists.
“We had a great experience from the Olympics and the top division last year so that kind of helped us win this game. We had some young guys who played really well and we had a great preparation in Korea,” Sangwook Kim explained the reasons behind the opening-day victory.
Playing at Barys Arena will give him and his colleagues another new experience. And Kim could even return to this arena next season as he will soon work on making the KHL. Next month he will join Chinese-based KHL team Red Star Kunlun for a try-out and will travel to Beijing a few days after the tournament.
Like 15 of the 22 players on the roster, Sangwook Kim has been playing for Anyang Halla, one of the Korean teams in the Asia League for which he concluded his seventh season. With 16 goals and 17 assists in 38 games he was the best Korean-born scorer in the league, just before his brother Kisun. In his most successful season two years ago he had 14 goals and 60 assists in 54 games.
“I’m not sure. I don’t know yet,” was his shy answer about one day play here in the KHL. “If I can get this chance, I definitely want to go to the KHL.”