North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yong-un, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were there. So was IOC president Thomas Bach and the North Korean cheerleading squad. Everybody who is somebody wanted to be there. I wanted to be there but alas….
Instead, I was on buses on my long journey’s home back from the short track speed skating competitions, fortunate that the buses had wide-screen TVs at the front, and had the ice hockey match of the year on.
It’s well known that the governments of North and South Korea agreed to jointly march in the opening ceremonies of the PyeongChang Olympics. But in the competitions, the South Koreans are represented by the South Korean flag, and the North Koreans by the North Korean flag…with one exception. The governments agreed to field a joint women’s ice hockey team composed of both South and North Koreans, and that a minimum of three North Koreans would actually have to play.
This understandably upset the coach, Sarah Murray, the members of the South Korean ice hockey team, and a lot of people who do not like North Korea. But the powers that be won out on this decision, and history was made on February 10, 2018 at Kwandong Hockey Center in Gangneung as Team Korea took the ice.
Unfortunately, that’s about all they did.
It could have been far worse. The 8-0 score at the end of the Korea-Switzerland women’s ice hockey match emphasized the total dominance that Team Switzerland had over the hosts. I only watched the end of the second period and most of the third period, and what I saw was a Korean team that could barely keep the puck on their sticks. Their checking was non-existent, their stick control was fleeting, their placement on the ice was haphazard, and what few shots they got off were weak. Even on their power plays, they look shorthanded.
On the flip side, Team Switzerland, #6 in the world, skated with ease, setting up shots as if they were pros playing high school kids desperately trying to keep up.
The score could easily have been 10-0, heck 12-0, if not for the goaltender for Team Korea, Shin So-jung. While the crowd pleaded Team Korea to get a goal, the cheers should have been for some incredible stops by the Korean minding the net. She positioned herself well for most of the play, which was almost all in her end, and made some great stops, particularly with her leg pads. In the end, Shin had an incredible 44 saves on the night.
After the match, asked about her upcoming matches with Japan and Sweden, she said “I have to be better than today. I hope I can relax and try to give my best.”
But her counterpart on the Swiss side, Florence Schelling, was reported to say in a tweet the International Ice Hockey Federation, “Hats off to her.”
Team Korea will not win a match. With only two weeks of preparation to meld the new team members, Team Korea’s head coach Murray, has been critical of the last-minute decision to shake up the team dynamics. But she’s looking forward.
“We definitely think we have a chance in the next two games,” she said. “So we are forgetting about this game and moving forward. We got the nerves out.”
No matter how poorly Team Korea does during the Olympiad, it will continue to capture the imagination of the Korean Peninsula. Who knows what will happen if they score a goal? If they win a match, it may be pandemonium.