INCHEON -- For Eric Regan, a Canadian-born hockey defenseman now representing South Korea, nothing is tougher than watching his teammates battle on the ice while he's sidelined with an injury.
Despite the absence of the sturdy rearguard for the final two games, South Korea finished in second place at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division I Group A in Kiev, Ukraine, last week. By doing so, South Korea has also qualified for the top-tier international competition, the IIHF World Championship, for the first time.
|South Korean hockey defenseman Eric Regan arrives at Incheon International Airport on April 30, 2017, after competing at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division I Group A in Kiev, Ukraine. Regan suffered an orbital fracture after taking a high stick against Hungary. (Yonhap)|
Regan missed South Korea's 5-0 loss to Austria last Thursday with an orbital fracture, suffered when he took an errant stick to the face against Hungary two days earlier. He was also not available when South Korea beat Ukraine 2-1 in a shoot-out, a victory that secured South Korea's spot at next year's World Championship.
The team got a hero's welcome at Incheon International Airport Sunday. While other Canadian-born players -- goalie Matt Dalton, defensemen Bryan Young and Alex Plante and forward Michael Swift -- all went home, Regan returned to South Korea for Tuesday's surgery.
The 28-year-old spoke to Yonhap News Agency about his sense of helplessness during the tournament finale.
"The last game against Ukraine was the most stressful hockey game I've ever seen in my life," he said. "We had so many chances to win (before the shoot-out) and the guys were so tired and were working so hard. We prevailed, but it was really tough to watch on the sidelines when it's completely out of your control."
Regan, who acquired his South Korean passport last March, is a work horse on the blue line. The former Oshawa Generals captain in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) plays in all situations, and his booming shot from the point in power plays is one of South Korea's major weapons.
Thanks in no small part to Regan and other players from overseas, South Korea has taken some huge steps. It played in the Division I Group B, the third-tier international competition, just two years ago.
With South Korea now getting ready for its Olympic debut next year on home ice at the PyeongChang Winter Games, followed by the top-tier World Championship, Regan said he enjoys being in the thick of it all.
"There's something else to be said about Korea getting to the world championship and qualifying in our own right," he said. "And seeing the development of the program and being part of that is truly something special. There's been a magnificent transformation and I hope it continues in the future."
Regan said Dalton's "outstanding" goaltending was among the keys to the team's success in Ukraine, in addition to a strong team defense and speed.
"As a unit, we really bought into our systems and we played a very disciplined game," he said. "And speed skills. It's a weapon.
When we don't turn the puck over and we use our speed, it's scary to play against us. Every team in our group was so good, and I thought our speed was difference."
Regan said South Korea must now learn to sustain their level of play for an entire game against stronger opponents.
"It's only going to get tougher at the next level," he said.
"With more experience we get at that level, the more these guys are going to develop. And the future for Korean hockey is bright." (Yonhap)