International Ice Hockey Federation

Korean Hockey Magic

Korean Hockey Magic

National association born in 1928, sport grows

Published 01.02.2018 20:36 GMT+10 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Korean Hockey Magic
Did you know that Korea's hockey history goes back close to 90 years? Since the ‘70s Korea has been competing in IIHF tournaments such as in this game against neighbour Japan at the 2000 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Far-East Qualification. Photo: IIHF Archive
Korea has a tradition of producing cars and electronics, but the Asian nation also has a fine hockey tradition that dates back nearly 90 years.

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 start off, a quick overview of the sport’s history in Korea is in order.

The Korean Ice Hockey Association was originally founded in 1928. Just two years later, the first national champion was crowned: Yonsei University. The 1885-founded private institution in the capital city of Seoul is considered one of Korea’s best universities. And it, along with the nearby Korea University, has remained a dominant force in domestic hockey for decades.

It took time to get things organized. In November 1930, the new Korean Ice Hockey Federation began administering the young sport. A regularly scheduled national championship featuring university teams kicked off in 1946 after the end of World War II. Then came the Korean War that split the country. The Korea Ice Hockey Association governing the sport in the south part applied for IIHF membership in 1959, and on 25 July 1960, Korea became an IIHF member. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from the north part followed three years later.

With a limited player pool and few rinks, international competition wasn’t in the cards right away. The Korean national team made its IIHF debut at the World Championship C-Pool in Barcelona, Spain in 1979. Coached by Man Young Kim and captained by Yung Suk Choi, the Koreans did the best they could in the eight-team, round-robin tournament. They stunned Great Britain with a wild 9-6 win and tied Australia 0-0 en route to a seventh-place finish.

In the 1980s and 90s, the Koreans struggled to gain traction, mostly remaining in the C Pool with occasional relegations to the D Pool. But in the new millennium, they finally began to make progress.

They earned their first promotion to Division I in 2001 after topping Division II with victories over New Zealand, South Africa, Iceland, Australia, and Spain. Another landmark came in 2007 when they hosted a Division II tournament in Seoul and got promoted with a perfect record. Using homegrown talents like scoring forward Kisung Kim, Korea has managed to never fall below Division I since 2010.

At the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A, the decision to stock up on naturalized North Americans playing pro hockey for Korean club teams in the Asia League during the push toward PyeongChang paid off. Korea moved up to the elite division for the first time ever and left former top-division teams like Hungary, Kazakhstan and Poland behind. Under ex-NHLer head coach Jim Paek, the Koreans edged host Ukraine 2-1 on Michael Swift’s shootout goal in Kyiv, which put them through to the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Denmark.

It was the first time in decades an Asian nation has qualified directly to the elite division. (Japan played in the top 16 from 1998 to 2004, but did so as the annual winner of a Far East Qualifier tournament versus China and Korea.) It was also a huge milestone prior to the 2018 Olympics.

For Korean hockey fans, things have never looked more exciting in the Land of the Morning Calm.

 

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