July 06, 2011
As you may have heard, PyeongChang is the host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics, marking the first time the Winter Games will be played in South Korea. Chris Chase of Fourth Place Medal says it was the easy and correct call for the IOC.
What it also means: That South Korea's men's national ice hockey team will make its Olympic debut in 2018. Unless it qualifies for the 2014 Games in Sochi, of course. Seeing that they're currently ranked No. 31 in the world … well, we'll see you in 2018, sirs.
Obviously, this is exciting news for the growth of hockey in Asian markets and internationally. It's also news that hockey's superpowers have a new enemy to worry about in seven years.
What do we really know about South Korean ice hockey? A handy F.A.Q.:
Q. How many people play ice hockey in South Korea?
According to the IIHF's Global Survey of Players and Rinks, Korea had 1,607 licensed ice hockey players (124 female) in 2009-2010. As Ted Starkey of the Washington Times notes, this is "slightly less than the number of hockey players in Kentucky."
Q. What has been South Korea's impact on the NHL?
There have been two South Korean-born players in the NHL. Jim Paek was the first; a defenseman who played from 1990-91 to 1994-95 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators. He's the first and only South Korean to get his name on the Stanley Cup. Which means there are more South Koreans on the Stanley Cup than guys named Mike Gartner.
Paek once wrestled Rob Ray:
We believe there's a statue in Seoul dedicated to this moment.
The second South Korean-born player in the NHL was Richard Park(notes), who played from 1995-96 through 2009-10 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders. His name translated as "Mike Sillinger."
He played for Genève-Servette HC last season at age 35, meaning he'll only be 42 when the Olympics are held.
Meaning hello, Capt. Park.
Q. Do they have, like, a South Korean NHL?
Ah, you're asking about the Asia League Ice Hockey (ALH) which Wikipedia can tell you all about here. It includes Korean, Japanese and Chinese teams. It's also seen a fair share of NHL talent over the years, including Esa Tikkanen and Claude Lemieux(notes), so evidently they have an [expletive] allotment for each franchise.
Q. They're ranked 31st in the world, which doesn't sound very good. Which nations are they better than?
It's better just to show you:
As you can see, they're much better at hockey than Mexico, which we hear is a collection of unemployed luchadores; Greece, which just sold all of its hockey gear so the government can operate for an another three hours; and the United Arab Emirates, which doesn't actually have ice.
Q. OK, so how have they fared in IIHF championship play?
They've made 26 appearances in world championships tournaments, with their best result a 23rd place finish in 1989. They've bounced between Division II and Division I hockey since 2000.
From the IIHF: "Last season, the Korean men's team played in the Division I Championship in Hungary where they defeated the Netherlands 6-3 and lost to Hungary (6-3), Italy (6-0) and to Spain (3-2 in overtime)."
Their all-time international hockey record is 65-115-14. If they were an NHL team, they'd have been relocated to Seattle by now
Q. How have they fared against some of their geographic rivals?
According to Wikipedia, through June 2009 South Korea was 3-14-2 against China, having scored 38 goals and given up 119. They are 0-15-1 against Japan, scoring 23 goals and giving up 150. They are 5-6-1 against North Korea. But they were 1-0-0 against Chinese Taipei, beating them 24-0. And they are 3-0 against Hong Kong, outscoring them 79-1. What's Korean for "They own that ass"?
Q. OK, but what about hockey superpowers?
According to those records, they've never played Canada, Russia, the U.S., Sweden, Finland or the Czechs in international play. They have played Norway, losing 11-1. They're also 0-7 against Kazakhstan, with a goal differential of minus-54.
Q. Will the NHL go to PyeongChang?
That all depends on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. It's expected they'll play in Sochi in 2014, not only because of the league's Russian presence but because their broadcast partner NBC has the rights. The NBC factor will be in play for 2018 as well; lord knows they'll want the NHL there again to help offset some of the projected losses.
Q. What does Gary Bettman think of South Korea?
Bettman has always been an advocate for growing hockey in non-traditional Southern markets.
Q. If the NHL does go to PyeongChang and Canada plays South Korea, what's the final score?
Q. If the NHL does not go to PyeongChang and Canada plays South Korea, what's the final score?
Q. Finally, what's the best suggestion for South Korea's ice hockey program in the next seven years?
We'll let Chris Peters take it from here: