INCHEON -- South Korea has defied odds to qualify for the top-tier competition in international men's hockey, and head coach Jim Paek says there's no big secret to it other than hard work.
Paek, a former National Hockey League defenseman, coached South Korea to second place at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division I Group A in Kiev, Ukraine, last week.
|Jim Paek, head coach of the South Korean men's hockey team, speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport on April 30, 2017. (Yonhap)|
It is the second-highest level of men's international hockey, and as one of the top two teams there, South Korea earned a promotion to the top-flight IIHF World Championship for next year.
South Korea, at No. 23, was the lowest-ranked team among the six countries in Ukraine, but recorded four wins against a loss to clinch the World Championship spot.
It's a remarkable progress for a country that played in Division I Group B, the third-tier competition, just two years ago.
Paek, who was hired in 2014 to help turn the fortunes around for the perennial doormat, said there is nothing hard work can't accomplish.
"You have to dream big and set high standards and set high goals," Paek told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "Nothing is too small for Korean hockey. We can achieve anything we want to try to achieve. "
South Korea defeated Poland (No. 20), Kazakhstan (No. 16) and Hungary (No. 19) in succession. South Korea saw its winning streak come to a halt against the 17th-ranked Austria, but bounced back to take down No. 22 Ukraine in a shoot-out for a dramatic finish.
South Korea's achievement has been dubbed "Miracle in Kiev" but Paek shrugged it off as simply a result of hard work.
"When you work hard, good things happen," he said. "We prepared and good things happened."
Paek, who won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, has drawn favorable comparisons with Guus Hiddink, former South Korean men's national football head coach. Hiddink led upstart South Korea to the semifinals at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, a feat that hasn't been matched since and likely won't be for quite some time.
Paek said it was "a great honor" to be compared with Hiddink, but added, "I am just Jim Paek."
"It takes a village to grow a hockey team and that's what I have, with our staff and players," Paek said. "It's not one person; it's a whole village that's helping this program grow."
The recent world championship run was an encouraging performance for South Korea, as it prepares for an Olympic debut on home ice at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics next year.
South Korea, which earned an Olympic spot as the host, has the daunting and unenviable task of facing Canada, the world No. 1 and two-time reigning Olympic champion, along with the Czech Republic (No. 6) and Switzerland (No. 7) in Group A.
Regardless of the opponents, Paek said his approach won't change.
"Our goal is to control what we can control and do our best, and work extremely hard," he said. (Yonhap)