GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The Korean women’s hockey team, thrown together in a historic combination of players from both North and South, will forever be a milestone that had ramifications beyond the Olympics.
Now only South Korea can decide if hockey truly takes root and the nation becomes a regular on the international stage – the women, sure, but also the South Korean men’s team, which also made a somewhat quieter Olympic debut.
Men’s assistant coach Richard Park believes hockey is poised for growth in South Korea and around Asia, which will host the next Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022.
”I don’t know if you’re at any particular stage where you can put a term on it like ‘the sleeping giant,”’ Park said. ”There’s obviously an opportunity for growth. Hopefully the Olympics, we’ll be able to use it as a springboard, or some sort of platform, and really accelerate the growth of the sport here.”
South Korea built its men’s and women’s teams by tapping players with ties to the country and the Justice Ministry was asked to fast-track the naturalization of imported players. Two hockey arenas and two practice rinks also were built to handle all the games and practices in Gangneung.
Putting the men’s team together took four exhaustive years of work by Park and head coach Jim Paek among many, a steep climb in a nation that in 2014 had little more than 100 registered male hockey players.
Building from here will mean more money and other resources and it also means offering the sport at the youth level and establishing strong junior leagues. Having a place to play for a country’s top players also is a priority.
Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said China is working hard with a team in the Kontinental Hockey League and two other teams playing in Russia. Kunlun Red Star, featuring Finnish goalie Noora Raty, is an expansion team in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
”To be sustainable we need a strong league, a domestic league,” Fasel said. ”We are actually working in China with that. We will also try to get the Koreans on the same path.”
Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Olympic organizing committee, noted South Korea has a junior women’s hockey team.
”When they grow up, this will be much stronger than this lady ice hockey team,” said Lee, who added that there are discussions about building a professional women’s team after the Olympics.
Defenseman Lee Don Ku, who plays on an Asian league team in South Korea, said he sees some interest at the junior level but there are no official leagues.
”But I hope that can change in the future,” Lee said.
Only time will tell if fans who turned out to cheer, chant and sing in support of the Korean hockey teams keep watching.
Playing better hockey certainly can help drive interest.
The men’s team lost all four games at the Olympics by a combined score of 19-3, with a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic in the opener proving to be their closest game.
The women lost all five games, but proved to be quick learners. They were routed 8-0 in the opener by Switzerland and beaten by the same score in their second game. After that, though, came a rugged 4-1 loss to Japan that saw the team’s first goal (Randi Heesoo Griffin got the honor) and then a taut 2-0 loss to the Swiss. The 6-1 loss to Sweden in the final game seemed less important than the cheering fans who stayed to watch the players raise their sticks in farewell.
Watching the world’s best up close also helped.
”We saw what we should learn from them and we’ve actually learned some,” said Eom Suyeon, just 17. ”So I think these will be helpful.”
Her coach, Sarah Murray, has already agreed to stay on a couple more years to help grow the sport, and she said there are plans to begin an under-18 program to develop talent.
A combined women’s team also may resurface in 2022 with both Fasel and Lee supporting the idea.
”I think that would be good to do it in 2022, to go to the Beijing Olympics, to keep the North and South Korean team,” Fasel said. ”It is a message of peace and we hope to continue that. We will try.”
If the survival and thriving of hockey comes down to work ethic, Park said he believes the game will thrive.
”They have this uncanny ability to not be outworked, and that’s something that’s reflected in our team,” Park said. ”You go outside the ice rink and you see it in the people of Korea. They work extremely hard and they’re very passionate in what they do. So you bring those qualities to an ice rink, there’s no reason not to be able to have some success.”
NOTES: In Tuesday’s other game, Evelina Raselli’s goal just 3:19 into the game led Switzerland past Japan 1-0 for fifth place at the tournament. Florence Schelling made 20 saves for the Swiss, who went 4-2 at the Olympics. Japan went 2-3.
Associated Press writers Stephen Whyno and Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this story.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
Seattle is getting ready to take the next step in the process to landing an NHL team.
Mayor Jenny Durkan announced on Tuesday that a season ticket drive will begin on March 1 at 10 a.m. PT.
Deposits will cost $500.
They can be purchased through nhlseattle.com.
The Oak View Group, which hopes to land the NHL team and is led by billionaire David Bonderman and filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer, submitted the expansion application with the National Hockey League exactly one week ago.
How well this season ticket drive goes will be a key factor in whether or not Seattle is awarded the NHL’s 32nd team at some point in the future.
When Vegas began its season ticket drive in February, 2015, it set a goal of 10,000 deposits and ended up selling all 16,000 deposits that were available within a year.
The Golden Knights began play this season and currently have one of the best records in the NHL.
The new Seattle team hopes to begin play in 2020.
The Philadelphia Flyers are winning a lot of hockey games right now but the injury bug has taken a pretty big bite out of them over the past couple of weeks.
After running out of veteran goalies (Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both sidelined for 4-6 weeks) and needing to trade for Petr Mrazek on Monday night, the team announced on Tuesday that forward Wayne Simmonds will be sidelined for the next two-to-three weeks due to an upper body injury.
Simmonds’ absence will be a big blow to the Flyers’ power play where he has become one of the best net-front players in the league. He leads the team with 10 power play goals this season.
[Related: Flyers acquire Mrazek from Red Wings]
He played 14 minutes in the Flyers’ 7-4 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday and got into a fight with Anthony DeAngelo early in the first period.
In 59 games this season he has scored 20 goals. It is the fifth consecutive season, and sixth time in seven years, he has topped the 20-goal mark. The only time during that stretch he did not reach 20 goals was the lockout shortened 2012-13 season when he scored 15 goals in 45 games.
The wondering can now stop as the Vancouver Canucks have extended defenseman Erik Gudbranson for three more years.
The extension is worth $12 million and Gudbranson’s deal will carry a $4 million cap hit through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season.
“Erik is an important part of our team and provides a physical element to our blueline,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning in a statement. “His leadership qualities help us as we continue to integrate younger players in our lineup. He is a quality person, a great teammate, outstanding in the community and we are excited to have him as part of our team moving forward.”
It was two years ago that Benning, who inked an extension with the Canucks last week, traded Jared McCann and a pair of 2016 draft picks to the Florida Panthers for the defenseman. With the direction that the team is currently moving, and with the Boston Bruins coughing up a third-round pick for Nick Holden of the New York Rangers on Tuesday, couldn’t Benning have flipped Gudbranson for something similar before moving on to a Thomas Vanek trade before Monday’s trade deadline?
The Canucks are currently a weird mix of youth and veterans with big contracts, especially at forward — contracts that last beyond next season. They have all but one of their picks in the next three drafts at the moment, and should at least recoup one with a Vanek trade.
This extension is Benning digging his feet in and standing by a bad deal from two years ago. As Dimitri Filipovic of Sportsnet pointed out last week, flipping Gudbranson, whose minutes and possession numbers have dipped in Year 2 in Vancouver, would be the GM waiving the white towel and saying he lost the trade. Now he gets to stand by it and throw platitudes at the defenseman to convince himself that this was the correct way to go.
The one beneficial part of the Gudbranson deal for the Canucks? The lack of a no-trade clause, as per TSN’s Bob McKenzie. NHL GMs love themselves big defensemen and at 6-foot-6, 220 lbs., the 26-year-old checks that box. So there is a chance to pass this contract onto another team looking to add size to their blue line. But for now, that’s clearly not the plan for the Canucks.