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S. Korea men's hockey coach loves 'underdog' tag

All News 17:02 January 10, 2018

By Yoo Jee-ho

JINCHEON, South Korea, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea men's hockey head coach Jim Paek said Wednesday he enjoys the underdog tag on his upstart team at next month's Winter Olympics, saying it just puts the pressure on his opponents.

Paek, a former Stanley Cup-winning defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins, will lead the 21st-ranked team to the PyeongChang Winter Games against first-ranked Canada, which has won the past two Olympic gold medals, along with the sixth-ranked Czech Republic and world No. 7 Switzerland.

On paper, South Korea won't be favored in any of the matches, but that's the way Paek likes it.

South Korean men's hockey coach Jim Paek (2nd from R) speaks to reporters during an open house event at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, on Jan. 10, 2018. (Yonhap)

"To be called the underdog is fantastic. We can fly under the radar and surprise other teams," said Paek at Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, some 90 kilometers south of Seoul. Paek's team and other Winter Olympics athletes had an open house event as the countdown to PyeongChang 2018 reached 30 days.

"There's no pressure, and we can just go out and play as hard as we can," Paek added. "And hopefully we'll get great results."

Paek has set up a camp with 36 players, and he will finalize his roster of 25 players later this month. In the meantime, he and his coaching staff are trying to figure out ways to handle the three giants.

"When we play certain ways, the other teams will know, and we have to get a counterpunch," he said. "It's like a chess match. We have to figure out many different ways of playing and let other teams chase us."

In December, South Korea got a taste of what it will be like to face top-10 nations. The team played against Canada, third-ranked Sweden and world No. 4 Finland at the Channel One Cup in Moscow. South Korea even led Canada 2-1 after one period before losing 4-2. The team ended up dropping all three games while getting outshot by 156 to 42.

But Paek said not all was lost from that tournament.

South Korean men's hockey players train during an open house event at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, on Jan. 10, 2018. (Yonhap)

"We had a different purpose than what everyone was thinking. Our purpose was to gain game experience," he said. "We needed to see how Canada, Finland and Sweden played. Facing the top-level competition gave us a lot of confidence to know what we're going up against. I think it was a very positive result."

Paek led South Korea to the top tier of the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship last year, but he said the Olympics will be a different animal.

"We have to train and think differently and prepare in a certain way to be able to be competitive at those levels," he said. "We're at a very high level with those teams, teams that have great experiences in the Olympics. So we have to train and find solutions in how to be competitive."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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