By Yoo Jee-ho
JINCHEON, South Korea, April 9 (Yonhap) -- With three consecutive 20-goal seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) in the early 1990s, Sergei Nemchinov knows a thing or two about putting the puck into the net.
The retired Russian winger is currently in South Korea coaching the men's national team ahead of the world championship, and he's trying to impart his knowledge and skills to a squad that desperately needs some scoring touch.
Nemchinov, 55, signed on to help head coach Jim Paek, former NHL defenseman himself, as South Korea gears up for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship Division I Group A, which starts April 29 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. It's the second-highest division in the IIHF world championships.
"I try to help in any way possible. I talk to Jim and other coaches. If they need my help, I am doing things on ice and off ice," Nemchinov said in an interview Monday at Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, 90 kilometers south of Seoul. "We're watching films and doing some power play and penalty kill. During practice, I do some shooting and skating drills."
Nemchinov, who has previously coached the Russian pro club HC CSKA Moscow and the Russian men's junior national team, said he approached Paek about a coaching opportunity here. Among five opponents for the world No. 16 South Korea at the worlds will be Belarus (No. 14) and Kazakhstan (No. 18), and Nemchinov said his knowledge of hockey in those two countries was his major selling point.
Nemchinov has been with the national team here since the beginning of April, and he has already identified strengths and weaknesses for the team.
"The strong point is work ethic. They can skate, and they can shoot," he said. "I wouldn't say it's a weak side, but when the players have a chance, they can't score, You just have to work. They create a lot of chances during the game but just can't score."
Asked how South Korea can best prepare to face Belarus and Kazakhstan, Nemchinov said, as important as scoring is, South Korea will have to tighten things up on the defensive end.
"We have to play well in the defensive zone, especially against (Belarus and Kazakhstan), because they have very powerful forwards," Nemchinov said. "But the most important thing for us is the first game against Hungary. After that, we'll start thinking about some other games."
Under the tutelage of Paek, who took over the program in 2014, South Korea has jumped in the world rankings from 23rd in 2013 to 18th prior to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and then to 16th after the Olympics. South Korea was relegated to the third division in the IIHF World Championships in April 2014. And three years later on Paek's watch, South Korea earned a promotion to the elite division for the first time.
Nemchinov said the credit goes to the systematic training process that Paek established.
"They're working every day on technical and tactical part of hockey," Nemchinov said. "The most important thing is the players listen to the coach and do what he's asking them to do."
Nemchinov and Paek go back more than two decades, when they were playing against each other. Nemchinov, a two-time world champion for the old Soviet Union, joined the NHL in 1991 with the New York Rangers. Paek was in his second season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and being in the same Eastern Conference, the two players had a fair share of battles.
In their first NHL meeting on Dec. 21, 1991, Nemchinov had a goal and an assist, while Paek was minus-1 as the Rangers beat the Penguins 7-5.
Both retired with two Stanley Cup rings -- Nemchinov with the Rangers in 1994 and the New Jersey Devils in 2000, and Paek winning both of his titles with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992 -- and days facing each other on the ice are long gone. Paek is glad to have Nemchinov by his side on the bench now.
"He's got wealth of knowledge and experience. He's passing that on to the players," Paek said of his new assistant. "He's absolutely fantastic."
South Korean captain Kim Sang-wook said Nemchinov has helped the players improve their skills.
"We were used to training in the more rugged, North American style," Kim said. "Coach Nemchinov has brought a more finesse-oriented approach. I think it helps with our technical training. And with his experience against Belarus and Kazakhstan, he's going to get us prepared to face them."
South Korea was relegated from the elite division last year. It must finish in the top two in the Division I Group A tournament this year to return to the top-flight competition in 2020. Finishing last means relegation to Division I Group B next year.
Nemchinov will be with South Korea only for the duration of the world championship. He said he won't get ahead of himself beyond the competition at hand.
"Now, the only plan is to go to the world championship and qualify for the higher group for next year," he said. "I haven't thought about the future."
BTS fans complain of tight ID checks at Busan concerts
N.K. leader says negotiations with U.S. are first step to recognition as nuclear power: report
U.S. Forces Korea chief suspends curfew for 3 months
Top diplomats of S. Korea, U.S. hold phone talks over Trump's planned visit, peninsula situation
Trump says his relationship with N.K. leader remains 'very good,' though it could change