INCHEON -- During last week's men's hockey world championship, South Korean forward Shin Sang-hoon had a rather unusual source of motivation to draw upon: his impending military service.
All healthy South Korean men have to serve around two years in the armed forces, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. Athletes like Shin are no exception, unless they win an Olympic medal or an Asian Games gold medal.
|South Korean hockey forward Shin Sang-hoon speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport on April 30, 2017. (Yonhap)|
Shin is scheduled to begin his basic training on Monday, and said he wanted to go into the camp on a winning note.
The 23-year-old accomplished just that, as South Korea beat Ukraine 2-1 in a shoot-out at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division I Group A in Kiev last Friday. With Shin scoring the decisive shoot-out goal, South Korea secured one of two spots at the top-tier international competition, the IIHF World Championship.
Shin and the rest of the team made a triumphant return home Sunday.
"I thought it'd leave a bitter taste in my mouth if we lost that game," Shin told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "So I was driven to play even harder. I wanted to win the last game before my conscription."
Michael Swift converted his chance as the first South Korean shooter against Ukraine, while goalie Matt Dalton denied two Ukrainian shooters at the other end. Shin stepped up as the third shooter and beat goalie Eduard Zakharchenko to the top shelf.
It set off a wild celebration on the ice. South Korea has never previously played at the IIHF World Championship.
"It was such an exciting moment, and I can't even describe what I was feeling at the time," he said. "I was confident I could score. And when it all happened, I was so thrilled I didn't even know how to react."
Even before the shoot-out Shin had also scored game-winning goals in two of South Korea's three previous wins. Shin scored the go-ahead goal against Kazakhstan as South Korea rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win 5-2. Then against Hungary, Shin broke a 1-1 tie in the third period with a great individual effort, getting his own rebound after shooting the puck off the end boards.
Shin's goal against Hungary was one of several examples of South Korea's superior speed. Though smaller in stature against European opponents, the South Koreans took advantage of their foot speed to create open ice and establish forechecks.
"The European players may be bigger, but they're not as fast as we are," he said. "And we were able to rely on our speed and stamina to score goals and come back from deficits in the third period." (Yonhap)