International Ice Hockey Federation

Time to Shin

Time to Shin

Korea's Finnish connection awaits Suomi

Published 15.08.2018 16:15 GMT+11 | Author Andy Potts
Time to Shin
Korean forward Sanghoon Shin during the preliminary-round game against the Czech Republic. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
A trio of Koreans spent a season playing in Finland with a view to boosting the Olympic team. Four years on, they face the Finns in the qualification game.

When Korea takes to the ice against Finland in Tuesday’s qualification round match-up, there’s a secret squad of Finnish-trained players ready to show what they can do.

Back in the 2013/14 season, Kiekko-Vantaa of the Finnish Mestis, or second league, took on some Korean prospects. The move, prompted by Korea’s Halla group becoming a major sponsor of the team, was intended to give a platform for Korean prospects to hone their skills in a pro league overseas. Fast forward four years, and despite some bumps on the road when financing problems reduced the scope of the partnership, three of them, Wonjun Kim, Jinhui Ahn and Sanghoon Shin are on Chisun “Jim” Paek’s Olympic roster here in Gangneung. Also brothers Kisung Kim and Sangwook Kim have playing experience in the second Finnish league.

Of the group, Shin had the most successful campaign with Vantaa. In 46 appearances, he picked up 23 (10+13) points and potted a further three goals in two games for the Finnish club’s juniors. Still only 24, he’s gone on to establish himself on the national team after three prolific seasons in the Asia League with Anyang Halla – another club connected with the Halla group. Ahn also had regular game time, finishing with eight points from 46 games, while defenceman Wonjun Kim played 30 times for Vantaa and had a brief loan spell at Bewe TuusKi.

Vantaa, based in a city best known as the home of Helsinki’s airport, includes some illustrious names among its former players – Valteri Filppula, Antti Niemi and even, for one loan appearance only, Mikael Granlund. But Shin smiled at the suggestion that his experience playing in Finland would offer any insights to the strengths and weaknesses of the team he will face today.

“We know we’re going to have to play as hard as we can, but if we do that we believe we can get a good result,” the forward said.

Shin’s time in Finland had its challenges – moving to a distant foreign country is never easy for a young player – but the benefits far outweighed the difficulties.

“The whole year helped me so much,” he said. “It was my first experience with a pro team and I was still only 20. That really accelerated my growth as a player.

“Because there were five Koreans in the group, it was easier to adapt. We could help each other out. Plus, the people in Finland were really welcoming and friendly.”

Ultimately the connection with Vantaa came to an end, but Shin feels more European clubs could benefit from investigating the Asian market. To date, only one other player on the Korean roster has significant foreign experience: captain Woosang Park spent the 2011/12 season playing with Coventry Blaze in Britain’s Elite League. Shin believes it’s time for that to change.

“Players in Asia, and especially here in Korea, aren’t lacking in anything,” he said. “We have the ability to compete in Finland and other European leagues.”

Shin is on the roster with his older brother, Sangwoo, who he cites as an inspiration when he began playing the game. And now, as he prepares for the highest-profile hockey game in Korea’s history, he’s hoping to provide inspiration for the next generation of home-grown talent.

“Hosting the Games, having them here in PyeongChang, is really shining a spotlight on our hockey program,” he said. “It’s been an inspiration for our group, and I’m sure it will help with the future development of our game.”


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