The year was 1984 and amidst all the fuss of whether or not George Orwell’s vision of the future was at hand, something magical was about to take place: The Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad were going to be held in Los Angeles – the city in which I lived. While only a young boy, the excitement about the games permeated the city and electrified the nation. As the date for the opening ceremony approached, the Olympic Flame Relay passed close to my house and I had a chance to see history being made. It’s something that was repeated in Seoul four years later… and is set to repeat itself again in PyeongChang in 2018 (which just happen to be the the XXIIIrd Winter Olympic Games).
It took three attempts before PyeongChang was awarded the games and the announcement instantly brought together everyone in Korea. Every news outlet covered the story and it was the topic of every conversation along the street, in schools, and on the subway. The Olympics coming back to Korea is huge news, especially since Yuna Kim put the spotlight on the country during the 2010 Games. However, the most exciting upcoming event during the 2018 Games will not be Figure Skating, but Ice Hockey. It’s a sport that dates back to the Middle Ages, and for the first time in 2018, the Korean Men’s National Team will take to the ice to vie for the Gold Medal.
Before we dive into Olympic Hockey, or even the professional teams that play in Korea (yes, Korea has two professional Ice Hockey teams), let’s talk about the sport, since many are not familiar with it. Unfortunately, this great sport is not nearly as popular as soccer (football), basketball, or baseball. As a result, it often is left out of many discussions. However, in my opinion, there isn’t a better sport around. Men and women navigate a frozen pond handling a tiny rubber puck, which they ultimately try to shoot past a guardian.
Hockey is played on a large oval surface called a hockey rink. During the game, there are normally six players per side on the ice at any time, one of them being the goaltender (goalie). The game’s objective is to score goals by shooting a hard vulcanized rubber disc, the puck, into the opponent’s goal net, which is placed at opposite ends of the rink. The players skate on the ice, controlling the puck using a wooden stick that’s curved at the end.
Players can use any part of their body to direct the puck (although there are a few exceptions). Players may not hold the puck in their hand and can’t pass the puck to teammates. Players are prohibited from scoring by kicking the puck or throwing it into their opponent’s goal net. Should a player commit a penalty, they are temporarily removed from play for 2, 5, or 10 minutes. During that time, the other team is on a “Power Play,” meaning they have a one-person advantage over the other team. In rare cases of extreme violence, a player may be ejected from the game. If the goaltender commits a penalty, another player serves the time.
The Asia League Ice Hockey (ALH) association operates a professional ice hockey league based in East Asia, with seven teams from Japan, China, and South Korea. The league is headquartered in Japan and at the end of the playoffs every year the winner is awarded The Championship Trophy. The Anyang Halla (Korea) have won the league championship the previous two seasons.
The league was formed in 2003 with the goal of promoting hockey and developing players’ skills. The original league had just five teams, although at one point it boasted nine during the 2005-2006 season.Today, there are seven teams and players generally fill the rosters from the host countries; however, to help build skill and raise the level of competitiveness, the league allows each team a certain number of foreign players.