Defending Asian hockey champion undaunted by challenges in Olympic season

By Yonhap
  • Published : Aug 28, 2017 - 13:35
  • Updated : Aug 28, 2017 - 13:35
When South Korean club Anyang Halla try to win their third straight Asia League Ice Hockey title in the upcoming season, they'll have to do so without about a dozen players for about half the time.

That's because the South Korean national team will call up its players in the buildup to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics next February. Anyang Halla, stocked with talent, could lose up to 12 players starting in November, when South Korea will set up camp and start playing tune-up games.

The regular season will also be shortened from 48 to 28 games. The regular season will start Sept. 2 and will wrap up Dec. 24. Then the ALIH will enter an extended Olympic break, and the playoffs will start March 3, after the Feb. 9-25 Olympics.

While two other South Korean teams, the Daemyung Killer Whales and High1, will also lose some players, Anyang Halla will take the biggest hit. With the national team's summer camp having just ended, Anyang Halla also spent most of the offseason without their key players.

Participants of the 2017-2018 Asia League Ice Hockey season media day pose for pictures after their press conference in Seoul on Aug. 28, 2017. From left are Daemyung Killer Whales captain Kim Bum-jin, Daemyung head coach Kevin Constantine, High 1 goalie coach Kim Sung-min, High1 captain Michael Swift, Anyang Halla head coach Patrick Martinec and Anyang captain Kim Won-jung. (Yonhap)

Still, Anyang Halla head coach Patrick Martinec said he's in full support of the national team, and it's up to him to make do with what he has left.

"This is going to be the biggest season for Korean hockey because of the Olympics," Martinec said at the ALIH's preseason media conference in Seoul on Monday. "As a coach of Anyang Hall, I am happy that these guys will play at the Olympics."

Martinec admitted his team may not be fully ready to start the season, having had just few practices with the full squad. And the challenge will only get bitter later in the season.

"We'll play almost half of our games without these (national team) players, and it'll be hard for us because all the teams are very strong," the Czech-born coach added. "We'll play maybe 14 games without national team players. I think we'll need 39 points to be in the playoffs, and we need to win 13 of those 14 games."

It's a lofty goal even for a club as deep as Anyang Halla, which will go for the first three-peat in the ALIH's 14-year history. Anyang captain Kim Won-jung, one of the national team forwards, said he has faith in his teammates to continue to excel after national team players get called up.

"We're ready to show how strong we are as the two-time reigning champions," Kim said. "A lot of us have been playing together for a long time. And even the players who won't make the national team are still as talented as anyone on other teams. We'll try to win as many games as we can before the national team camp opens."

Daemyung and High1 went through some major offseason changes. Daemyung has former National Hockey League coach Kevin Constantine on the bench, hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2016-2017 season in which they won just seven games in regulation to finish eighth among nine teams.

Constantine said he's hoping to combine the best of both North American hockey and South Korean hockey.

"If I can bring some of the North American part of the game, with energy and competitiveness, and mix in with what I find Korean players are good at -- high work ethic and tremendous amount of coachability -- then we can build a good foundation for the future," Constantine said. "We're trying to be as competitive as we can as soon as we can. We're trying to put in a way of playing that allows a team to be better than people playing individual games."

High1 acquired a new goalie in Jason Bacashihua, former netminder for the St. Louis Blues. The team's goalie coach Kim Sung-min was effusive of the American goalie, saying he could carry High1 to the playoffs this year.

"He is a mobile goalie with great stickhandling skills," Kim said. "He can make great breakout passes from behind the net. And our defensemen have become a lot more consistent with someone they can trust playing in net. I think he can be one of the top goalies in Asia."

For the 2017-2018 season, the China Dragon will no longer be part of the ALIH, leaving three teams in South Korea, four in Japan and one in Russia vying for the title. The fourth- and fifth-ranked teams will square off in the first round, with the winner advancing to the semifinals. (Yonhap)