Blowout win “stepping stone” for S. Korean women’s hockey team: coach

SAPPORO, Japan-- South Korea blew out Thailand 20-0 to open the women's hockey tournament at the Asian Winter Games here Saturday, a victory that the team's coach said was "a stepping stone" before it takes on the competition favorite.

Coach Sarah Murray said the players enjoyed themselves on the bench and in the locker room at Tsukisamu Gymnasium, celebrating South Korea's first-ever win in Winter Asiad women's hockey. In 15 previous games at four previous competitions, South Korea had been outscored 242-4.

The feel-good victory aside, Murray said playing an inferior team at the onset of a tournament -- South Korea is world No. 23 and Thailand isn't ranked by the International Ice Hockey Federation -- does have its challenges, especially when the very next opponent is the best team in the field, world No. 7 Japan.

"You want to start out hard because that's what you're preparing for and that's what all the training camps are building up to," Murray said. "Our focus for this game was, 'We don't play down or play slow. We want to play our game.' Basically, this was a stepping stone to play against Japan."

South Korea poured in seven goals in the first period, while outshooting Thailand 17-0. The team added seven more goals in the second, though it got away from crisp passing and players at times tried to stick-handle their way through multiple Thai players.

Before the third period, Murray brought the players back to the drawing board.

"We decided that we wanted to work on our offensive zone entry and neutral zone regroup," she said. "We made a rule that the girls had to regroup the puck and do the offensive zone entry whenever they wanted to shoot. It was great because we had practice with pressure and practiced the strategies and systems that we wanted to play. It was good to get some extra practice on things we needed to work on."

South Korea will next face Japan on Monday at the same venue. Japan, the pre-tournament favorite who recently played its way into the 2018 Olympics, defeated Kazakhstan 6-0 earlier Saturday. Japan outshot Kazakhstan 58-3.

The South Korean players and coaches already had their first-hand look at the Japanese team. They set up a pre-Asiad training camp in Tomakomai, some 50 kilometers south of Sapporo, and watched Japan take down Germany, France and Austria to clinch an Olympic berth.

"They moved the puck really well. They played really well together," Murray said of Japan. "We know how good they are. We know what they can do."

South Korea will certainly not score 20 goals against Japan, and Murray said smart defensive zone coverage will be key.

"They're a very shifty team," she said. "As long as we don't get caught chasing players around, I think we should be okay."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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