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The Korea Ice Hockey Association had been on the hunt for a foreign head coach to help improve their fortunes of automatically qualifying for the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
On Wednesday, they found their man.
After spending nine seasons as an assistant coach with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL, former NHLer Jim Paek will now guide his country's national team.
A two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins, Paek was also named as a Program Director of the national team team along with his new head coaching duties. The former defenceman will replace Byoen Sun-Wook, who coached the team for three years but resigned after Korea was relegated at the 2014 IIHF World Championship Division I Group A.
“The idea of coaching the National Team in the Olympics is one of my dreams. I've always wanted to help develop Korean hockey. I've returned to Korea many times to run hockey schools and coached Korean teams travelling to Canada. What a great opportunity I have now.”
"I know Korea hockey is aiming for the 2018 Winter Games, it's a great challenge but if we are organized and have a plan and teach the process good things will come. We cannot lose focus on the process."
Paek was born in Seoul, but moved to Canada when he was very young. In 1990-91, he became the first Korean-born player ever in the NHL. After his playing days ended, he got into coaching, joining the Orlando Seals of the WHA2 in 2003 before taking a job with an Ohio high school team.
The goal now for Paek and his charges is a IIHF world ranking of 18th. After a dismal showing at the 2014 Division I World Championships where Korea was relegated to Group B, the idea of automatically qualifying for the 2018 hockey tournament as host nation was thrown into serious doubt.
Speaking at a conference in April, IIHF president Rene Fasel said that the federation's goal for Korea over the next two years is an improvement in the world rankings to insitll confidence in the governing body that in four year's time there will be no heavily-lopsided scorelines.
"The Korean team is on a good road although people are disappointed they couldn’t perform as expected here but we will have meetings about that," Fasel said. "Our recommendation to the Korean Ice Hockey Association for a free entry is that the men’s national team needs to be 18th or better in the World Ranking. But there are still different ways to go. They can go through the qualification or they could have a free entry. But they need to improve and present a program that can fit."
No Olympic host has ever not iced a team in the hockey tournament, so the challenge is there for Paek: recruit and develop players to help improve Korea's world ranking or go through the tough qualifying process for only a handful of open spots in 2018.
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