For Korea, it’s a simple equation: an overtime loss or better secures top spot and a place in the final qualifying round next month. For GB, things are more complicated. If Slovenia, as expected, defeats Iceland in the lunchtime game, the Brits will need to get to the top of a three-way tie to advance. That means a victory by at least two goals would be required.
Korea impresses through adversity
Korea has impressed so far. Two games played, no goals allowed and 13 scored in convincing victories over Slovenia (3-0) and Iceland (10-0). The country’s bid to return to the Games after hosting in 2018 was born in difficult circumstances due to the pandemic, but after giving up home advantage Sang Jun Kim’s team is thriving on the road.
Covid-19 shut down all indoor team sport in Korea, so this tournament had to be moved from its scheduled venue in Gangneung.
“When we first heard that we couldn’t host the tournament we were very disappointed, but these things happen,” coach Kim said. “We can’t change it so we just focused on the new situation. We had to say to the players to calm down and just make sure to get the win wherever we play.”
The new situation also meant no game time for Korea’s home-based players due to the suspension of the domestic league. The bulk of the preparations for Nottingham have taken place overseas. In addition, Korea has a much-changed roster from the historic United Korean line-up that brought North and South together in PyeongChang – so the focus in the camp has been very much on establishing team Korea’s identity.
“At this tournament, our only goal is to win,” Kim added. “We don’t care who we play against, we try to focus on our game. If we play to our strengths, we’re sure we can beat anyone.”
And that confidence is reflected in the team’s longer term ambition. “After this, we want to win the next round and go to the Beijing Olympics.”
Clancy confident in first tournament
Britain, too, is a team in transition. Mike Clancy is in his first tournament as head coach after replacing Cheryl Smith after five seasons behind the bench. There are new faces on the ice as well, with five debutants on the team for this tournament. They began with a solid 5-0 win over Iceland, but hit a bump in the road in Friday's 1-2 reverse against Slovenia.
“A lot has changed,” Clancy said. “Any team that comes to compete with us now will find it difficult at both ends. From a goaltending point of view, we’re very strong and I believe that we’ve got the right set-up and systems for this group.
“Any time we get opportunities for our power play, we’ll absolutely take a team to task.”
Among the players, there’s a sense that it’s time for women’s hockey in Britain to take a step forward, following the success of the men’s program in recent seasons.
“The men have done an absolutely incredible job,” said team captain Saffron Allen. “We’ve supported them for many years in their journey and their rise to the top. Now it’s about us. With what we have right now, we are ready to start performing as I think we should. We all want to get as far as we can in any tournament we play. We want to become a better team and a great inspiration for the next generation as well.”
These countries last crossed paths in 2017 when Korea hosted World Championship Division IIA as an Olympic test event. On that occasion, home ice advantage made the difference, with Korea defeating Britain 3-1 on the way to top spot in the group and promotion to Division IB. Jongah Park and Heewon Kim were among the Korean scorers that day, and they will be back in action against GB in Sunday’s showdown.