Jim Paek helping lead the growth of hockey in South Korea


Jim Paek bowed his head and pumped both fists as one of his assistants, former NHLer Richard Park, celebrated beside him. Sanghoon Shin’s shootout goal versus Ukraine during last April’s Division I – Group A IIHF World Championship didn’t secure just any win — it was a victory that meant South Korea would continue its rise in international hockey and be promoted to the top division for the 2018 tournament, playing against the likes of the United States, Canada and Finland.


Three months after wrapping up the 2010-11 American Hockey League season as an assistant with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Paek’s home country of South Korea was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics. Three years later, the Seoul native was tapped to become the country’s men’s ice hockey coach.

Before he accepted the job, Paek reached out Curt Fraser, a fellow assistant in Grand Rapids and former head coach of the Belarusian national team. Fraser bestowed plenty of wisdom from his two-year international experience.

“It’s a different world. North American hockey, NHL hockey, American League hockey to international, you’re stepping into a different territory,” Paek recently told Pro Hockey Talk. “He gave me some great advice on how to control it, what to look for, how to prepare yourself, those type of things. But the biggest thing is he said, ‘Jim, it’s a great experience for you,’ and it sure has been. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this.”

[‘Olympics Are a Start’: Stanley Cup Winner Builds New South Korean Hockey Dreams]

Paek’s playing career ended in 2003, and as he got closer to hanging up his skates he knew he wanted to stay involved in the sport. He loved teaching, which showed when as a veteran player he would do extra work with young teammates after practices. He knew the next step in his hockey life would be to enter the coaching ranks. His start came with a year in the World Hockey Association 2 and then a season behind the bench with an Ohio high school team. In 2005, he moved up the ranks as an assistant on Greg Ireland’s staff in Grand Rapids.

From ‘Badger’ Bob Johnson to Scotty Bowman, Paek was educated by some of the game’s best coaches, and each have had an influence on his approach and style today.

“To be able to have those great coaches coach me, I’d be a fool not to take the positives from what they taught,” he said. “But I think the key component to that is what I’ve tried to do is take all the positives from all the coaches that I’ve know over the years, all the way to even my minor atom amateur days, to all the way up to my coaching days [with] Jeff Blashill, so a combination of everybody, but to try to make it your own and not be them. Not be a ‘Badger’ Bob, not be a Scotty Bowman — try to fit that into my personality and use that in a positive way.”


As Paek and South Korea await their first Olympic game on Feb. 15, the preparation continues. Earlier this month they participated in the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge, losing their three games to Denmark, Norway and host Austria. In December they’ll travel to Moscow for the Channel One Cup and play against Canada, Finland and Sweden. It’s getting to be crunch time and these games erve as valuable experience for his players.

Most of the roster is set, which will feature a mix of South Koreans and Americans and Canadians. Some would call the North American players who came over and earned citizenship to join the national team “imports,” but Paek sees it differently.

“I really don’t like that term ‘imports,’” he said. “The Canadian guys and American players that we have have been in this country for many years… Brock Radunske has been here like eight years. He’s been here longer than me. In my eyes I see 25 Korean players that are playing hockey in Korea, that are preparing for the Olympics, their dreams, their goals.”

Those North Americans who came over aren’t ringers. As Paek said, most have been in South Korea for years and used their time in the Asia League Ice Hockey to grow and develop the sport. They’ve adjusted to life in a new country, become immerse in the culture and helped improve the quality of hockey.

“With their experiences, they came over and they set the standard and have tried to get the Korean players up to that level and that standard,” Paek said. “They’ve done a great job in doing that when they came over. With the Asian league being here and allowing those Canadian players to come over and participate in the Asian league, sure, it’s helped tremendously, along with so many other things [like] the Korean players’ willingness to improve and develop and work extremely hard to get better in their own right. There’s a combination of a lot of things, and initially when they came over to raise the standard it’s been great.

“As we move forward, it’s everybody helping each other. It’s Korean guys helping the Canadian guys and the Canadian guys helping the Korean guys as a team does.”


Since being awarded the 2018 Winter Games and given automatic berths into the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments, South Korea has made a focused effort on raising the interest level in hockey in the country. A four-year, $20 million investment plan backed by the Korean Ice Hockey Federation (KIHA), South Korean government, International Olympic Committee and national sponsors was vital, and over the last seven years the participation numbers from youth to adult have been on the rise.

According to statistics provided by the KIHA, the number of registered boys and girls 12 and under has grown from 897 in 2011 to 2,132 in 2017. Growth in other age groups such as U15, U18, U23 and 24 and older have also increased, a trend that started before Paek’s arrival in 2014.


The growing numbers in the 12 and under group is a promising sight. The country’s collective efforts have worked and the impact of those youth players seeing South Korea in Olympic hockey tournaments will only help increase those numbers going forward.


“Thank God.” 

That was Paek’s first thought after Shin’s promotion-clinching goal. He then recalled all of the support he’d received from family and friends and the coaches who influenced him along the way. As he stood on the bench, he saw his players celebrating a mission accomplished. There was a lot of work to be done when he was hired in 2014, and in that moment the program went from making baby steps to taking one giant leap.

As his staff embraced around him, Paek knew that he what he had just witnessed would have a major impact on hockey in South Korea.

“It was just a very emotional time for me, just like a proud father would be,” he said. “It was a tremendous moment in Korean hockey for me personally, and for the country also. To see that and everybody’s efforts that they put into it, sure made me happy.”

Grouped with the Czech Republic, Canada and Switzerland, South Korea’s Olympic gold medal hopes are currently listed at 500/1. No one is expecting the Disney movie ending, but they’ll be one of the more intriguing teams to watch. Even before the NHL decided against sending its players, they were going to be a fan favorite based on their underdog status.

And no matter how the tournament plays out, South Korea has already won, according to Paek.

“You know, success right now, I think we have succeeded,” says Paek. “Being able to start where we started and being able to play in the Olympics at a world stage in front of this competition, in front of these countries, we’ve succeeded. That’s in my eyes. Anything we do beyond that is gravy. But our players aren’t satisfied and we’re preparing extremely hard to win, and that’s what we do and that’s what anybody does. You don’t prepare to lose, so we’re trying our best and we’re working extremely hard to be successful.

“The players are very proud to represent their country, and hopefully that’ll show and the people of Korea will be very proud of our hockey players.”


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

#MelnykOut billboards go up in Ottawa as Senators fans urge change

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The billboards in Brooklyn want the general manager out. The billboards in Ottawa, which went up Monday morning, are calling for the owner to sell.

As the dissatisfaction with the state of the franchise continues to intensify, Ottawa Senators fans have come together to purchase four billboards calling for Eugene Melnyk to get “out.”

The campaign was started by Spencer Callaghan, who raised $5,000 in the first 24 hours after the GoFundMe page was opened.

“What I want to accomplish mainly is for people to just start asking questions, like why is this organization in such turmoil,” Callaghan told CTV News in February. “It’s at the point where if we need a change of ownership to get this organization back on track then that’s what we need to push for.”

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the four billboards will be up for two weeks and a fifth will go up for one week on April 2.

It’s been a strange year in Senators land. They went from being within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final to having their owner threaten to move the team to then having him walk that back a few months later to now looking at the NHL draft lottery and coming to the realization that captain Erik Karlsson may be dealt in the off-season.

So you can see why they might be ready for some change.

Meanwhile, it will be a very interesting off-season for the New York Islanders. They are going to miss the playoffs for a second straight season and have to worry about whether John Tavares will decide to re-sign with the organization. Fans upset with GM Garth Snow’s lack of progress with the franchise put up their own billboards in February calling for his removal. Head coach Doug Weight doesn’t seem to have any answers, so will ownership decide to clean house and start fresh as the franchise begins to split games between Barclays Center and a renovated Nassau Coliseum next season as they wait for their new home to be built near Belmont Park?

If the campaigns in Ottawa and New York succeed by reaching their ultimate goals, how much of an inspiration will they be for other fanbases who are sick and tired of the lack of direction with their teams?


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

If there’s one thing the Kings need right now with 10 games left in the regular season, it’s some consistency. John Stevens’ charges have alternated wins and losses in their eight games in March, leaving them in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with 84 points.

LA is tied with the Dallas Stars in points, but have the ROW advantage (37-34) while also owning a game in-hand. The Kings are battling on two fronts. Not only are they in the mix for a wild card, but they are on the heels of the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division’s third seed.

So as the Kings begin a four-game road trip Monday night with three games against playoff teams (Minnesota, Winnipeg, Colorado), the road doesn’t get any easier. After a disappointing 3-0 loss at Staples Center on Saturday, they need to rebound quickly.

“You lose a game, you move on and get ready for the next one,” said Stevens via the Orange County Register. “We’ve got an important week coming up this week, so we’re in playoff mode. We’re thinking about Minnesota now, and we’ll get ready for the game after that when that comes.”


The Wild have a little bit of a cushion in the Central Division’s third spot and are looking at four days off following their meeting with the Kings before they host the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. Minnesota grabbed four huge points with back-to-back road wins over the weekend against Vegas and Arizona. In their favor is a very strong record at Xcel Energy Center (24-6-6) and the fact that they’ve taken points from 24 of their last 26 home games.

A victory would give Bruce Boudreau his 500th as an NHL head coach and make him the 26th bench boss to reach that milestone. In his 10 seasons as a bench boss, he’s won eight division titles and one Jack Adams Awards.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL GMs to meet; Lamoriello’s future with Leafs

Sharks / Instagram
1 Comment

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Joe Thornton’s long-lost brother was apparently at the game Saturday night. [Instagram]

• Goalie interference will be a big topic at this week’s NHL general managers meetings. [The Star]

• Lou Lamoriello’s future with the Toronto Maple Leafs remains up in the air. “Any decisions about the organization won’t be made until after the season is over,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told Elliotte Friedman. [Sportsnet]

• The NCAA men’s bracket is set with St. Cloud State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Cornell grabbing top seeds. [College Hockey News]

• For the third time in five years, Clarkson’s women’s team won the NCAA title. The overtime goal, which was scored by Elizabeth Giguere (No relation to J.S.), was a terrific one. [NY Times]

• Daryl Watts, freshman forward at Boston College, took home the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s top women’s collegiate player. [USCHO]

• With Ilya Kovalchuk interested in an NHL return this summer — and his rights no longer being owned by the New Jersey Devils — the New York Rangers should be all-in on the forward. [NY Post]

• A good look at how these Winnipeg Jets have been built into a contender. [ESPN]

• This season’s Hart Trophy race is quite the crowded field. [Tampa Bay Times]

• The New York Islanders have really wasted what could be John Tavares‘ last season with the franchise. [Sporting News]

• We’re coming up on a full NHL season without any head coaches being fired. [TSN]

• General managers around the NHL muse about the Detroit Red Wings and rebuilds. [Freep]

• Should the Carolina Hurricanes continue the changes and move on from Bill Peters? [Section 328]

William Karlsson doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down as he continues this surprising season. [Toronto Sun]

• How a minority hockey program helped one man become an officer in the Marines. [Color of Hockey]

• Finally, Declan Farmer was the hero for the U.S. Paralympic hockey team, who won their third straight gold with a 2-1 win over Canada. [NBC Olympics]


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: William Karlsson’s wild night; Hart Trophy race intensifies

Leave a comment

Players of the Night: 

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s MVP campaign got a serious boost on Sunday, as he picked up two goals and an assist in a win over the Detroit Red Wings. The Avs forward is now riding a 12-game point streak. He better start making room on a shelf for a Hart Trophy.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights: Karlsson continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2017-18 season. His natural hat trick against the Flames puts him at 39 goals on the season. Who would’ve thought that we’d be talking about him as a 40-goal scorer?

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Even though MacKinnon is rolling right now, Kucherov won’t go away quietly in the race for the MVP crown. The Lightning forward picked up two goals in Sunday’s win over the Oilers. Kucherov has 36 goals and 93 points in 70 games this season.

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks: DeBrincat scored his third hat trick of the season in a losing effort. The rookie has 25 goals and 45 points in 73 games this season. He has a chance to score 30 this year.

Alex Pietrangelo and Vincent Dunn, St. Louis Blues: The Blues came away with a huge comeback win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrik Berglund scored the game-winner in overtime, but Pietrangelo and Dunn each had four points in the victory.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: Laine has been a scoring machine of late. He found the back of the net twice in Sunday’s win over the Dallas Stars. He’s now scored 43 goals in 72 games this season. Laine’s picked up at least one point in 15 consecutive games.

Highlights of the Night: 

A wicked one-timer from Wild Bill:

That’s an incredible backhander from MacKinnon:

Here’s an unorthodox save from Fleury

Factoids of the Night: 

Dunn Deal


Oh and Laine is a teen sensation

DeBrincat’s having an impressive rookie season:


Avalanche 5, Red Wings 1
Golden Knights 4, Flames 0
Lightning 3, Oilers 1
Hurricanes 4, Islanders 3
Flyers 6, Capitals 3
Blues 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)
Jets 4, Stars 2
Ducks 4, Devils 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.