(2nd LD) S. Korea comes up short vs. Russia in men's hockey friendly
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By Yoo Jee-ho
GANGNEUNG, South Korea, March 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea fell to Russia 4-3 in their men's hockey friendly game here on Saturday, its furious late charge coming up just short on home ice.
The 23rd-ranked South Korea gave world No. 2 Russia all it could handle at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, some 230 kilometers east of Seoul. The new arena will also host hockey for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics; this was the first official contest at the rink.
The two nations will go at it again at 2 p.m. Sunday. South Korea scheduled these friendlies to prepare for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship Division I Group A in Ukraine next month.
In this photo provided by the Korea Ice Hockey Association, South Korea's Sin Sang-woo controls the puck against Vadim Kudako of Russia in their friendly match at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on March 18, 2017. (Yonhap)
With the National Hockey League (NHL) season in full swing, Russia didn't bring all of its best players, and mostly called up young prospects in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Goalie Ilya Ezhov is the oldest player at age 30, while captain Stepan Sannikov is the oldest skater at 26.
Russia still outclassed South Korea for the majority of the game, with blazing speed, crisp passing and physical play on its own end.
Russia opened scoring with a short-handed goal just 2:27 into the first period. Anton Shenfeld picked Cho Min-ho's pocket deep in the Russian zone, and fed Viktor Komarov for a one-timer from the left face-off dot that beat Matt Dalton in the Korean net.
Russia dominated the puck for most of the opening frame, and South Korea's only serious chance came midway through the period, when Shin Hyung-yun fired a low, hard slap shot right at goalie Ilya Ezhov from the top of the left face-off circle.
Russia doubled the lead with 2:59 left in the first, as Kirill Kapustin ripped a shot from the high slot.
South Korea held its ground for the early part of the second period, until Russia went up 3-0 at 11:09 in the period on a power play. Dalton made a save on a wrister by Viacheslav Leshchenko from the right faceoff circle, but Kirill Semyonov was left all alone as he pounced on the rebound.
Shin tried to get one back for South Korea on a breakaway with about four minutes left in the second period, but Ezhov denied him on a low wrist shot.
South Korea finally got on board 40 seconds into the third period, as Ahn Jin-hui slapped one home from the top of the left faceoff circle.
In this photo provided by the Korea Ice Hockey Association, South Korean goalie Matt Dalton makes a save on Russia in their friendly match at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on March 18, 2017. (Yonhap)
Kim Ki-sung then made it a one-goal affair at 9:06 in the third thanks to a rare Russian miscue. Kapustin fanned on a clearing attempt behind the Russian net, and Kim Sang-wook secured the loose puck right in front of Ezhov. He faked a shot and set up Kim Ki-sung to his left for a quick wrister.
Russia, however, restored its two-goal lead four minutes later. Viacheslav Ushenin started a breakaway and dropped the puck near the right face-off dot for Kapustin, who then fed Vladislav Ushenin for the insurance goal.
Desperate for another goal, South Korea pulled Dalton with 3:35 left in the game for an extra attacker. The gamble paid off, as defenseman Eric Regan scored on a wrist shot from the point and made it a 4-3 contest.
South Korea, though, ran out of time as Russia clung to the narrow victory.
South Korean head coach Jim Paek said it was "a fantastic game" for his players, who he said took another step forward as they get ready for their Olympic debut next year.
"Any time we can play a high-level, top nation like that, it gives us a great experience," Paek said. "We made a lot of mistakes that we shouldn't have made. Right now, this is all part of the process. The more games we play against these top-level teams, the more experience and the better it is for us."
Matt Dalton, the South Korean goalie named the team's best player of the game, agreed that playing tougher opponents is the "only way to get better."
"I think it's good for us to get some confidence against these higher level countries," said Dalton, who made 23 stops. "We made some mistakes but that's hockey. We just have to work on getting rid of those mistakes."
Ahn Jin-hui, who scored South Korea's first goal, admitted he was a nervous wreck at the start of the game but he wasn't ready to concede anything to Russia.
"It didn't really hit me at first that we were going to play these guys," Ahn said. "I think they're a more of a complete hockey team compared to the others we'd faced. But we all played hard as one unit and we wanted to learn from these players as much as we could. We may not have another chance to play a team like this before the Olympics."