Richard Park won’t say that South Korea’s men’s Olympic ice hockey team will win a medal at the 2018 Winter Games debut in February. But….
“It’s a short tournament and anything can happen,” Park told me recently. “You use the word ‘miracle,’ you think of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, the ‘Miracle on Ice.’ It’s happen before. If we can come close to matching that, or even duplicating it, it will be an amazing accomplishment.”
It’s been an amazing hockey journey for Park, a retired forward who played 14 seasons in the National Hockey League for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders.
The journey has come full circle for Park. He’s returned to the country of his birth to serve as assistant director and assistant coach for a South Korean men’s team that will compete in its first Winter Olympics when it takes to the Gangneung Hockey Center ice in PyeongChang, South Korea, on Feb. 15 to face the Czech Republic.
Park discusses South Korea’s upcoming Olympic experience, the rise of hockey in Asia, and reflects on his NHL career in the latest Color of Hockey podcast.
While Park won’t predict a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal for South Korea, he says that the 2018 Olympic hockey tournament will be dramatically different from previous Winter Games because the NHL isn’t releasing its players to compete for their countries.
“It doesn’t directly have an affect on us like other countries,” Park said of the absence of NHL superstars. “But it does have an affect on us because it changes the playing field for us. We’ll see. Hopefully we can turn that into an advantage.”
South Korea has already surprised the hockey world. Under Head Coach Jim Paek and Park, the team finished second at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division I Group A tournament in Kiev in April.
The showing earned South Korea a promotion to the IIHF’s top division, joining the ranks of the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and other hockey powers.
“Korea has never ever been close, let alone in the top division in the world of hockey,” Park said. “It’s huge. It’s big, it’s never been done before.”
Park’s team now faces the daunting task of trying to win in Group A at the Olympic hockey tournament, a bracket that includes powerhouses Canada and the Czech Republic and always pesky Switzerland.
“It’s really the first time we’ll be playing at that caliber,” Park told me. “We’ll do okay.”
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