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S. Korea coach lauds players' mental maturity in winning world women's hockey title

All Headlines 20:09 April 08, 2017

By Yoo Jee-ho

GANGNEUNG, South Korea, April 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korean national women's hockey coach Sarah Murray said Saturday her players' improved mental maturity was key to the team's world title won on home ice.

South Korea blanked the Netherlands 2-0 to claim the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women's World Championship Division II Group A at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. Forward Han Soo-jin scored both goals as South Korea capped off the six-nation tournament with its fifth straight win.

South Korea has earned a promotion to the third-highest level of the IIHF championships, Division I Group B, for next season.

This is no small feat for a still-fledgling program ranked No. 23 in the world. South Korea used to routinely get pounded in the double figures, and scoring goals was a rare occasion.

South Korean players pose for photos after winning the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship Division II Group A at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on April 8, 2017. (Yonhap)

The country took an important step forward by finishing fourth at the Sapporo Asian Winter Games in February, its best-ever showing at the continental event, and then outdid itself at the world championships on home ice.

Murray, a Canadian who took over the program in 2014, said she's happy to see the players' hard work being paid off.

"The players' mental maturity has improved so much, even since the Asian Games," she said. "They've come a long way and showed that they weren't going to let the chance slip away."

The Netherlands, ranked No. 19, came out with strong forechecking early in this game. The bigger and stronger Dutch players pushed around the smaller South Koreans and created a series of turnovers in the South Korean zone.

South Korea withstood the storm and kept the game scoreless in the opening 20 minutes. Han then came through with the eventual winner at 16:04 in the first, and picked up her second goal at 2:53 in the third.

"Usually in the past, if we weren't winning the first period or if we were down by one, or if we were 0-0 when we should've been winning, the team would be defeated before we even went out for the second period," Murray said. "But today, we had kind of a rough start in the first period, but we came back into the locker room and everybody regrouped. The players came out harder, which is phenomenal. They've matured a lot."

Sarah Murray, head coach of the South Korean women's hockey team, watches her team's celebration of its title at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship Division II Group A at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on April 8, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea is getting ready for an Olympic debut on home ice next year at the PyeongChang Winter Games. It received an automatic berth as the host, and will face Sweden, Switzerland and Japan -- ranked fifth, sixth and seventh -- in the group stage.

Murray said her team has to keep getting stronger both physically and mentally.

"When we go into the Olympics, the teams are going to be big and strong, similar to the Netherlands," she said. "So we definitely need to work on our strength and off-ice conditioning, so we can battle and compete with the teams that we're going to play against."

The key to more mental maturity is to "show up on time," Murray added.

"In the Olympics, teams are so good that we can't have a bad first period and then recover in the second," she said. "We have to make sure we show up in the first period at puck drop, not a period later."

Murray will take the team to the United States for a camp, where South Korea will face some Division I college teams. Before that, South Korea is also trying to schedule friendly games against France and Switzerland.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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