International Ice Hockey Federation

Korean Hockey Magic

Korean Hockey Magic

Dong Hwan Song leads Asia in goals in 2006

Published 05.02.2018 08:29 GMT+10 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Korean Hockey Magic
In 2006, Anyang Halla's Dong Hwan Song became the first Korean to lead the Asia League in goals (31). Photo: Janos Pallo
For years, Japan dominated Asian hockey, both in domestic pro play and internationally. But then a nifty forward named Dong Hwan Song put Korea on the map.

Leading up to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, we’re looking back at some of the biggest developments in this sport in an ongoing series called “Korean Hockey Magic.”

When the Asia League Ice Hockey launched in 2003, the sport wasn’t faring that well in either Korea or Japan. The 1966-founded Japan Ice Hockey League, suffering from low attendance, would dissolve in 2004, and the top Korean league had just bit the dust. So the Asia League provided a new alternative in which the top clubs from different Asian countries battled one another.

The Japanese had qualified to play from 1998 to 2004 in the elite IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, as they consistently defeated Korea and China in the (now-defunct) Far East Qualifier tournament. Even though they had little success against the world’s top-16 teams, both their domestically developed talent and their high-calibre imports poised them to shine in ALIH.

So it was no surprise when former Montreal Canadiens prospects Ryan Kuwabara of the champion Nippon Paper Cranes led the league with 15 goals in the inaugural season of 2003/04, which had an abbreviated 16-game schedule. In 2004/05, Kuwabara’s Nippon teammate Masatoshi Ito – a right winger who played at three elite Worlds – topped the goals derby with 33 in a 42-game schedule. It looked like a clear pattern was emerging.

However, in 2005/06, Dong Hwan Song changed the storyline. It was easy to see how the “Korean Rocket” got his nickname. Then 25, this stocky, powerful skater wore number 96 – the same number Russian legend Pavel Bure, the “Russian Rocket,” temporarily adopted in 1995/96. More importantly, as YouTube videos attest, Song also scored highlight-reel goals in bunches for Anyang Halla, then the lone Korean club in the league.

That season, Song led the league with 31 goals as the first Korean-born and trained player to accomplish that feat. The former Korea University star’s 62 points ranked him fourth overall behind Paper Cranes star Derek Plante (a three-time 20-goal scorer with the Buffalo Sabres), Czech forward Patrik Martinec, and Masatoshi Ito.

Song wasn’t an overnight success. In fact, he’d already carved out a niche for himself at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. In 1998, he potted a whopping 30 goals in a 92-0 victory over Thailand at the Asia Oceania U18 Championship. It was the most lopsided score in international hockey history, and the Hall requested his jersey afterwards. Song was far ahead of his time, as his real-life explosion predated the 2011 Verizon TV ads in which Alexander Ovechkin scored an “Ovechtrick” consisting of nine goals.

Song’s goals title set the stage for more glory for Korean club hockey. For instance, in 2010, Anyang Halla became the first non-Japanese club to win the championship. In 2014, national team stalwart Kisung Kim made history as the first Korean named league MVP.

In 2016, Song retired with 466 career points in 392 Asia League games. Still, the legacy of the “Korean Rocket” continues to inspire his hockey-loving countrymen.

Previous stories from the series:

 

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