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(LEAD) Hockey friendlies vs. Russia confidence builder for S. Korea: coach

2017/03/19 17:36

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By Yoo Jee-ho

GANGNEUNG, South Korea, March 19 (Yonhap) -- Despite losing both games, facing Russia in back-to-back men's hockey friendly games was still an important confidence builder for South Korea, the team's coach said Sunday.

Jim Paek's South Korea lost to Russia 5-2 at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, some 230 kilometers east of Seoul. The new rink will also be the venue for the hockey tournament at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The loss came on the heels of a 4-3 defeat on Saturday.

In both games, though, South Korea put on strong efforts. On Saturday, South Korea scored three goals in the third period before its rally fell short. Then on Sunday, South Korea briefly led 2-1 in the second period before Russia stormed back with four consecutive goals.

Paek said he "absolutely" expected his team to play as well as it did over the weekend, but it is still a work in progress as it gets ready for an Olympic debut next year.

South Korean men's hockey coach Jim Paek (C) directs his players during a men's hockey friendly game against Russia at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on March 19, 2017. (Yonhap) South Korean men's hockey coach Jim Paek (C) directs his players during a men's hockey friendly game against Russia at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on March 19, 2017. (Yonhap)

"We have to keep learning and getting better. We have learn to play 60 minutes of hockey the right way," he said. "No matter what the other team does, we have to play our game plan."

   South Korea, 23rd in the world, hosted No. 2-ranked Russia in preparation for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship Division I Group A in Ukraine next month.

South Korea will face Ukraine, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Poland and Austria. The top nation after the round robin play will be promoted to the top-flight World Championship for next year, while the worst country will be relegated to Division I Group B in 2018. South Korea is the lowest-ranked nation in the group, with Kazakhstan (No. 16), Austria (No. 17), Hungary (No. 19), Poland (No. 20) and Ukraine (No. 22) all ahead.

And the lessons from the two games against Russia couldn't have come at a better time, Paek said.

"I think (playing in games like these) gives us a lot of confidence," the coach said. "And what it also does is show us what areas of our game we have to get better. This was a great experience for us."

   South Korea gave up the opening goals in both games, but bounced back quickly on Sunday, scoring the equalizer only 34 seconds after Russia's first goal in the first period.

Paek's players also put a ton of pressure on the Russian defense with effective forechecking from the get-go, but the strategy appeared to backfire when the players were visibly tired in the latter stages of the game.

When asked what specific areas the team has to improve, Paek said, "It's a lot of things."

   "I think when we have these games, so many things have to improve," he said. "Collectively, by having more games, we'll improve every part of our game."

   Kim Sang-wook, a first-line forward for South Korea, also said playing Russia was a good learning experience. He said the biggest takeaway from the losses was that the players now understand the importance of sticking to their game plan.

"We're usually smaller than our opponents, and we have to rely on our speed and agility," Kim said. "I think we gained a lot of confidence from these games in that regard. No matter how much bigger the other players are, we should have good results if we just play our game."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

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