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(Yonhap Interview) Gritty forward proud of contribution to Asian hockey champion

All News 10:24 February 29, 2016

TOKYO, Feb. 29 (Yonhap) -- Every championship team needs a player like Kim Won-jung, a gritty forward for the 2015-2016 Asia League Ice Hockey (ALIH) regular season winner from South Korea, Anyang Halla.

Kim's contribution to Anyang goes well beyond his otherwise mediocre statistics -- five goals and 21 assists in 48 games. As a checking-line forward, Kim, listed at 180 centimeters and 83 kilograms, does plenty of dirty work in the corners against the opposing scoring lines, and also features prominently on Anyang's penalty-kill unit.

In a telling sign of Kim's significance to the team that posted the league's all-time record of 114 points, owner Lee Seok-min said the 31-year-old forward was one of the first players he thanked during celebration of Anyang's title-clinching, 6-0 victory over Oji Eagles in Tokyo.

While basking in Anyang's second consecutive regular season title, Kim told Yonhap News Agency that he's proud of the way he's been able to help the team.

"The team is asking me to do the dirty work, and if I can execute that, then it's good enough for me," Kim said. "I can't be too satisfied (with my stats) but we have a lot of talented players on this team. I blocked shots and prevented the other team from scoring (Sunday) and it was a thrilling experience."

His low points total notwithstanding, Kim is considered one of South Korea's best two-way forwards, a type who can play equally well on both ends of the ice. Such players are so valued that the National Hockey League (NHL) has been awarding the Frank J. Selke Trophy to its best defensive forwards since the 1977-1978 season.

And Jim Paek, former NHL defenseman now coaching South Korea, has said Kim is one of the most important pieces to the national team puzzle for his versatility and work ethic.

Kim has the skills to shine as a top-six forward on teams with less depth than Anyang, but he insisted it doesn't matter what role he plays as long as he can help the team win.

"I don't think I deserve to be called a two-way forward," Kim added. "I looked up some of the two-way forwards and I don't think I am that type of player. I am just a player who works hard and who tries to do what the coach wants."

Kim has already played for Paek in earlier international competitions, including the 2016 Euro Ice Hockey Challenge earlier this month in Copenhagen. He said it had always been "my dream" to don the national team uniform.

"If I can make the national team again, then I want to show people everything that I am capable of doing," he said. "I've never taken the national team for granted. I have to keep working hard, thinking if I keep doing the right things, then coach Paek will come calling."

South Korea will make its Winter Games debut on home ice in 2018 in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. Kim said he isn't yet looking that far down the road, and wants to focus on helping Anyang win the championship final.

By virtue of finishing first in the regular season, Anyang has earned a bye to the semifinals. The last time Anyang won both the regular season crown and the championship final was in the 2009-2010 season. Last season, Anyang finished first in the regular season, only to be swept in three games at home by Tohoku Free Blades in the playoff final.

"The Free Blades came ready to battle," said Kim, who missed last year's final with an injury. "I had to watch our team fall apart and I was extremely angry."

Kim said he fully expects his team to return to the final, and Sakhalin, which finished one point behind Anyang in the regular season, will likely be the opponent.

"They're such a great team and we have to be ready," he said. "We won't be playing for anyone else but ourselves to win the playoff final."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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