South Korea will try to use next year's Winter Olympics at home as a launch pad for its men's and women's hockey programs, the head of the sport's national federation said Wednesday.
In a media briefing at the National Training Center in Seoul, Chung Mong-won, president of the Korea Ice Hockey Association, said South Korea has already turned its eyes toward the future beyond the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
The men's team, coached by former National Hockey League defenseman Jim Paek, is ranked 21st in the world. The women's team, with ex-U.S. collegiate star Sarah Murray on the bench, is No. 22. Both teams will compete in PyeongChang after receiving automatic spots as the host country.
Chung said the country's first Olympic appearance in both men's and women's hockey will be a monumental occasion, but the efforts that have gone into improving both programs shouldn't stop after PyeongChang 2018.
"After PyeongChang, we'll try to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on merit," Chung said at the KIHA's media day event, held with the 200-day countdown to the PyeongChang Olympics approaching.
"We hope to expand our grassroots and generate more interest in the sport," Chung added.
To that end, the KIHA will encourage more schools to form hockey teams, thus enlarging the talent pool, and also train future hockey coaches and administrators to lead the national teams down the road.
|Chung Mong-won, head of the Korea Ice Hockey Association, speaks at a press conference at the National Training Center in Seoul on July 19, 2017. (Yonhap)|
As for the more imminent task of competing at the Olympics on home ice, Chung unveiled detailed training schedules for the men's and women's teams.
The men's team will wrap up its two-month off-ice program next week, and will fly to Vladivostok, Russia, for a couple of friendly games against a team from the Kontinental Hockey League. In August, South Korea will enter the Mountfield Cup tournament in Prague.
The vast majority of the national players are under contract with clubs in Asia League Ice Hockey, and their professional season kicks off in September. Chung said the league has agreed to shorten its season from 48 games to 28 games in the 2017-2018 season to allow the national team players to train for the Olympics.
After the ALIH season, Paek will assemble the national team at the beginning of November, and more tournament action will follow.
First, it will be the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge from Nov. 6 to 12, with Norway (No. 9), Denmark (No. 14) and Austria (No. 16) in action. In December, South Korea will face the top three in men's hockey -- Canada, Russia and Sweden -- as part of the Channel One Cup in Russia.
Just before the Olympics, South Korea will face Russia again in a tune-up.
The women's national team will host world No. 5 Sweden in two friendly games on July 28 and 29. During its overseas camps in France and the United States, South Korea will face Switzerland (No. 6), France (No. 13) and NCAA Division I teams.
South Korea will also enter a four-national tournament in Hungary in November and have more training in New York and Minnesota in December.
"I am extremely proud of all of our players, and they've accomplished so much," Chung said. "And I believe they're also lucky to be able to play in the Olympics at home. They're about to embark into uncharted territory, and I have faith that they'll be able to overcome their fear and compete as one." (Yonhap)