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(Yonhap Interview) Half-Korean hockey player chasing Olympic dream in mother's native land

All Headlines 09:22 March 30, 2015

By Yoo Jee-ho

GOYANG, South Korea, March 30 (Yonhap) -- Tyler Brickler was born in Chicago and plays college hockey in the state of New York, but the 24-year-old hockey forward is chasing his Olympic dream in the unlikeliest of places.

Born to an American father and a South Korean mother, Brickler has been training with the South Korean national team here, ahead of next month's International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship for Division I Group B, a third-tier level of international hockey, in the Netherlands.

Brickler, playing collegiate hockey for the State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo, took an unusual route to the South Korean training camp. He contacted the Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA) last year to express his interest in playing for the birth country of his mother, and emailed video highlights of his plays.

Intrigued by the youngster, Jim Paek, a former Stanley Cup-winning defenseman who became the national team head coach last summer, extended Brickler an invitation to the camp that began on March 9. Brickler paid his own way to South Korea, and brought his parents with him.

"This was something that was almost a year in the making," Brickler told Yonhap News Agency after a practice last Wednesday at the ice rink at Goyang Eoulim Nuri Sports Center, northwest of Seoul.

"I wanted to play hockey after college. I was getting contacted by a couple of teams in the United States," Brickler added, saying he's taking time off from school to train here. "But I said to myself, 'How cool would it be to go overseas and play?' I was honored he invited me to the camp. There was no way I was going to miss it."

South Korea wouldn't have been good enough to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics on home ice in PyeongChang, but has been granted a spot in the tournament as the host nation. As it prepares for its Olympic men's hockey debut, the country could use all the assets it could get its hands on over the next three years or so. The government has naturalized four North American-born players in recent years, though none has the Korean lineage that Brickler does.

Brickler said playing at the Olympics is "without a doubt" his ultimate goal.

"I want to stay in Korea as long as I can and get accustomed to the customs and culture here," he said. "If I learn the language, I don't see myself going back. I love it here."

Mind you, Brickler isn't just happy to be here; he's making a concrete contribution to the team. Paek and other KIHA officials say he has been the team's best player so far at the camp, scoring multiple goals in practice matches.

He led Geneseo in scoring with 13 goals and 20 assists in 26 games during the 2014-2015 season. He tied for 16th among all Division III players in the United States.

Asked to assess his strengths as a player, Brickler said he could be an effective two-way forward who can take care of business on both ends of the ice.

"I think I am a defensive forward. I think of myself as a strong skater with good stickhandling abilities and good vision," he said. "I think I can really help the national team because the thing Jim (Paek) has been preaching about is that we want to play in the offensive zone as much as possible but we want to be smart in the defensive zone as well. I think I can definitely help out the team and be a key contributor in the future."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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