By Yoo Jee-ho
GANGNEUNG, South Korea, April 6 (Yonhap) -- After scoring a power-play goal against Australia at the women's hockey world championships in Gangneung on Wednesday, South Korean defenseman Eom Su-yeon was so elated that she jumped up and down on the ice.
Soon, her teammates gathered around her and joined in the fun, as South Korea took a 7-0 lead late in the second period at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women's World Championship Division II Group A at Kwandong Hockey Centre. South Korea scored again in the third to win 8-1, but Eom's goal prompted the most exuberant celebration.
"We didn't plan it or anything like that," Eom said sheepishly after being named the team's best player of the game with a goal and three assists. "We were all hugging each other and (the jumping) just kind of happened."
The moment of unadulterated joy was also a symbolic one for South Korean women's hockey, where youth is well served with eight teenagers on the 22-player squad at this competition. Already one of South Korea's most important players at 16, Eom was joined on that play by two other players born in the year 2001: forwards Kim Hee-won and Lee Eun-ji.
These kids aren't just good; they also know how to have a little fun.
"They've been really supportive, and I rely on them for so much," Eom said of Kim and Lee. Eom and Lee have turned 16, and Kim will join them in the Sweet 16 club in August.
They all take up key roles on the team. Eom plays on the second defensive pair alongside captain Lee Kyou-sun, while Kim has been dazzling as the top-line forward at this tournament. Lee Eun-ji is on the same line with Park Jong-ah, the tournament leading scorer with four goals and three helpers in three games.
And head coach Sarah Murray has enough faith in Eom and Kim to place them on the points on the first power-play unit.
South Korea struggled mightily on power plays at the Sapporo Asian Winter Games in February, and Murray put the team through extra drills before the world championships. Eom and Co. responded with five power-play goals in six opportunities Wednesday.
"We didn't really click at first," Eom said of her special teams. She only made her international debut in Sapporo because she hadn't been old enough to play in official games outside Korea. "And with all the work that we put it, we were able to score a few goals here. We finally got it done."
Eom has established a strong partnership with Lee Kyou-sun on defense, their 17-year difference in age notwithstanding. Eom is a feisty, offensive-minded rearguard who isn't afraid to fire shots. Lee is a steady, stay-at-home type defender who can cover Eom's back when the younger player jumps in on the attack.
Eom thanked Lee and other, older teammates for guiding her along the way.
"Kyou-sun is a great listener, and she's very accommodating," Eom said. "And others have been pretty helpful too."
South Korea is gearing up for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics on home ice. The two venues being used at the world championships -- the Gangneung and Kwandong Hockey Centres -- will stage the Olympic tournament as well.
At No. 23 with still plenty of room for improvement, South Korea wouldn't have qualified for the competition but has instead received an automatic berth as the host. If South Korea is to qualify on its own at future Olympics, the likes of Eom must continue to grow.
For now, though, Eom wants to enjoy the ride toward her first Olympics.
"Now that these rinks have been built, it's really hit me hard that the Olympics aren't all that far away," Eom said.
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