Korea claims top spot
by Andy Potts|10 OCT 2021
photo: Dean Woolley
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It was a night of conflicting emotions in Nottingham as Olympic Qualification Group F came to a dramatic conclusion. For Korea, the pain of defeat on the ice was eased by the joy of securing a spot in the final phase - albeit by the narrowest of margins. For Great Britain, the satisfaction of beating the tournament's top seed and producing one of the best performances by the women's team in international play was tempered by coming up just one goal short of clinching top spot for itself in front of a 1,700 strong home crowd.

Britain's 1-0 victory in this final game was an absorbing struggle from start to finish, and it was Korea that left the building in top spot after winning a three-way tie on goal difference.

For Korea, it keeps the Olympic dream alive. After hosting in 2018, the country is determined to earn a place at Beijing on its own merits. Ye Eun Park, a veteran of the team in PyeongChang, said: "We have Olympic experience, but a lot of our younger players do not. I really hope to give them the opportunity to experience the same thing that we had in 2018.

"And it's important for our women's program. I hope that women's hockey in Korea can keep getting better."

It came down to a single goal. Britain had to win by two or more. Louise Adams got one in the final minute of the second period but that was the only goal that Korea allowed in the entire tournament as 16-year-old netminder Inhye Jang produced another fantastic performance between the piping.

"Both our goalies are really young, but they are both so confident with their plays," added Park. "The team trusts them very much. They both did a great job in this tournament and I'm really proud of them."

Korea continued with the same line-up that saw it earn shut-out wins over Slovenia and Iceland. Britain, though, shuffled its lines. Captain Saffron Allen moved to the first line alongside Katie Marsden and Louise Adams. Isabel Whiteley took Allen’s place next to Jodie-Leigh Bloom and Katie Henry, with that trio moving to the third line. The original line three of Rachel Cartwright, Aimee Headland and Katherine Gale was listed as the second line here. Part of the reshuffle was prompted by injury concerns, with at least two of the team playing through pain after leaving Friday's game on crutches.

The battle developed into a clash of styles. Korea, always a team that plays system-based hockey, was content to absorb British pressure and look to strike on the counter attack, while the Brits had little option but to push forward in search of the goals it needed to advance. The first period saw both teams probing each other’s games and clear-cut chances were at a premium. GB had more efforts on goal but rarely managed to extend young Korean goaltender Inhye Jang. At the other end, Nicole Jackson was less involved in the game, but produced big saves to halt Selin Kim’s solo rush in the eighth minute and then to snuff out a dangerous two-on-one break when Jiyeon Choi teed up Nara Kang on the slot.

The second period began with Korea gaining more control of the game and generating plenty of danger. Once again, Jackson had to make some big saves to keep home hopes alive. Gradually, though, the momentum began to switch. Local girl Chamonix Jackson came close midway through the frame but could not quite get her shot away. Then there was an almighty scramble on the Korean crease when Marsden went on the wraparound to feed Allen at the back door. However, the puck would not drop for the captain to shoot cleanly at the empty net.

But the pressure paid off one minute before the second intermission on the first British power play of the night. Louise Adams brought the 1,700-strong crowd to its feet when she rifled home a shot from between the hash marks after another incisive feed from Marsden rounded off a fine spell of possession in the Korean zone. It was the first goal Korea allowed in 159 minutes of play at this tournament, and it turned a comfortable position for the top seed into a decidedly precarious one.

Britain's head coach Mike Clancy was proud of his team's performance, despite coming up just short on the night. "We emptied the tank completely," he said. "We came up against a well drilled side that knew what they needed to do and I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the girls tonight."

The British PP was running five in nine as the third period got underway and almost immediately a crunching hit on Adams ushered in chance number 10 for the power play. Henry saw a shot bobble agonisingly wide but this time Lucy Beal’s crunching hit on Jongah Park brought a penalty the other way. 

That flurry of penalties continued for both teams as the third period struggled to settle into a rhythm. That suited Korea better than GB, as the clock ticked down and the pressure on the host team piled up.

With 40 seconds left, another Korean penalty enabled Britain to finish the game playing 6-on-4, but there was no way through and Korea claimed top spot.

"In that time-out, our coach just told us to stand tall and to stay together as a team," said Ye Eun Park. "He reminded us that hockey is not just a game for one player, it's a team game."

Britain, victorious and defeated in one moment, now looks ahead to its World Championship campaign in Division IIA in March. 

"We’ve only had a short period of time together to get our systems embedded and to create the kind of atmosphere that we want," Clancy concluded. "I think we’ve got to really step it up again for the World Championship. We’re looking forward to the challenge and I know the girls will go and do us proud."
Korea vs Great Britain - 2022 Women's Final Olympic Qualification Group F