International Ice Hockey Federation

Korean Hockey Magic

Korean Hockey Magic

Anyang Halla wins Asia League in 2010

Published 06.02.2018 08:56 GMT+10 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Korean Hockey Magic
Anyang captain Woo Jae Kim celebrates as Anyang Halla, Korea's oldest pro club, made history by becoming the first non-Japanese club to win the Asian title in 2010. Photo: Uchigasaki / Asia League Ice Hockey
Anyang Halla’s logo is a growling polar bear, but Korea’s oldest pro hockey club didn’t truly scare Japanese rivals till it won its first Asian title in 2010.

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.”

To underscore how new Korea’s professional tradition is, Anyang Halla was only founded in 1994 – the same year the New York Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks for their first Stanley Cup since 1940 and Canada beat Finland for its first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship since 1961. The club was originally named Mando Winia after a line of air conditioners manufactured by the industrial sponsor Halla Group and located in the Seoul suburb of Mok-dong.

They won five titles in the Korean Ice Hockey League, buoyed by the offensive wizardry of five-time MVP Eui Sik Shim, sometimes dubbed the “Korean Gretzky.” When that league went out of business in 2003, the Halla Group shifted its ice gladiators into the Asia League, becoming the lone Korean founding member along with four Japanese clubs.

It was re-named “Anyang Halla” in 2005. Anyang is a city of nearly 600,000 people just south of Seoul, and the team plays at the 1,284-capacity Anyang Ice Arena. But it took a while to get on track.

The Nippon Paper Cranes won the first Asia League championship in 2004, followed by back-to-back titles for Seibu Prince Rabbits in 2005 and 2006. The Paper Cranes triumphed again in 2007 and 2009, with the Oji Eagles winning the 2008 title. Would it ever be Korea's turn to celebrate?

Bill Meltzer neatly summed up the reasons for Japan’s pro dominance in a 2007 NHL.com article: “Within the context of Asian hockey, the Japanese easily have the most systematic organization, the strongest ability to maintain professionalized clubs, and the largest pool of players to draw from within the pockets where youth hockey is popular. The top Japanese clubs also have been able to recruit a higher grade of imported talent to their teams.”

Anyang Halla recruited quality Czech players in the early 2000s, including ex-Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zdenek Nedved and former Extraliga scoring leader Patrik Martinec, who today serves as the club’s head coach. But even with their help and the goal-scoring heroics of Dong Hwan Song, who topped the Asia League with 31 markers in 2005/06, Anyang Halla never did better than losing in the 2006 and 2009 semi-finals.

That is, until 2010. The club had started to add more Canadians, including defenceman Dustin Wood and forwards Brad Fast and Brock Radunske, and it paid off. Radunske, a towering Kitchener native who played three seasons for Michigan State, got the nickname “Canadian Big Beauty.” He would ultimately become Anyang Halla’s all-time leader in all offensive categories and games played, plus the first naturalized Canadian to suit up for the Korean national team in 2013.

Sidelined early in 2009/10 with a concussion, Radunske bounced back and peaked at the right time – in the playoffs. Anyang Halla knocked off Korean rivals High1 with a 3-1 semi-final series victory, and then faced the Paper Cranes in the best-of-five final. It went the distance, with playoff MVP Radunske scoring two overtime winners and setting up Woo Jae Kim for the sudden-death winner in Game Five. Anyang Halla had finally broken the Japanese monopoly.

Since that historic 2010 triumph, Anyang Halla has been a perennial Asia League contender, winning the title again in 2011, 2016, and 2017. While Canadian imports still play an important role, domestic talent has also been key: Kisung Kim was named league MVP in 2015, and Sang Wook Kim tied Matt Pope of the Tohoku Free Blades for the league lead in points (68) last season. It shows that after you win once, anything is possible.

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