S. Korea shows ‘character’ in bouncing back from disappointing men’s hockey loss: coach

SAPPORO, Japan-- Following an unimpressive loss to Kazakhstan to start the Asian Winter Games, South Korean men's hockey team defeated Japan 4-1 on Friday with strong efforts on both ends.

And as head coach Jim Paek sees it, the turnaround showed what his players are made of.

"That shows the character of our players," Paek said. "We were flat that first game against Kazakhstan but we came back here strong tonight. That shows we've got a good team and good character guys."

South Korea, ranked 23rd, barely put up a fight in losing 4-0 to the 16th-ranked Kazakhstan on Wednesday. South Korea took four penalties in the second period alone, and had no answer when Kazakhstan started crowding the neutral zone.

But the team that thoroughly outplayed the 21st-ranked Japan seemed to be a completely different team from two days earlier. Paek attributed the success simply to the players' work ethic.

"We took away their time and space, which was real good," he said. "We had some puck luck. Normally, when you work hard, good things happen. And when you play the right way, good things happen."

Japan was called for four penalties in the second period and South Korea forward Michael Swift made the opponents pay with a power-play goal at 9:49 in that frame.

"It's very important at these tournaments that your special teams are good," Paek said. "We work on our power play and penalty killing at every practice."

South Korea still has a mathematical chance to win gold, but it will need a lot of help from other countries. On Sunday, South Korea will close out against China, while Japan and Kazakhstan will square off, and the top three teams from the round robin play will emerge as the medalists.

Though the gold may be out of reach, Paek, a former Stanley Cup-winning defenseman, said he's more focused on making the team better in the long run, with an eye on the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea's PyeongChang.

"It's all about the process. The world championships (in Ukraine in April) are our next step," he said. "And we have to prepare for that. It's going to be even harder than this tournament. We keep moving forward and forward and trying to get better every day."

After recording one tie and 19 losses against Japan, South Korea has now won three consecutive games against its neighbor.

"We've closed the gap on a lot of teams," Paek added. "We're doing extremely well by working hard and learning the game of hockey and getting better."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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