(LEAD) Men's nat'l hockey team departs for site of world championship
(ATTN: UPDATES with more players' info in paras 9, 11-12)
SEOUL, April 18 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean men's hockey team on Tuesday departed for Ukraine, the site of the upcoming world championship, with an eye on a promotion to the sport's highest division next year.
Coached by former National Hockey League (NHL) defenseman Jim Paek, South Korea will compete in the April 22-28 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship Division I Group A, which is the second-highest level of men's international hockey. All games will be held in Kiev.
It's also a key test tournament for South Korea ahead of its Olympic debut on home ice next year at the PyeongChang Winter Games. South Korea earned a spot as the host, and will face world No. 1 Canada, along with the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
The No. 23-ranked South Korea will face Kazakhstan (No. 16), Austria (No. 17), Hungary (No. 19), Poland (No. 20) and Ukraine (No. 22) in the round-robin event. The top two nations will be promoted to the top-flight IIHF World Championship next year, while the worst team will drop to Division I Group B in 2018.
In last year's Division I Group A tournament, South Korea finished fifth among six nations with seven points on two wins, two losses and one overtime loss. It was the country's best showing at the world championship.
In this file photo taken on March 19, 2017, South Korean men's hockey players celebrate a goal against Russia in a friendly game at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)
Kazakhstan and Hungary were relegated from the top division last year, while Austria has qualified for next year's PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
South Korea was shut out by Kazakhstan 4-0 at the Sapporo Asian Winter Games in February, despite the Central Asian nation not sending all of its best skaters.
Joining Kazakhstan will be a Canadian-born forward Martin St. Pierre, a naturalized Kazakhstan citizen who has played for four different NHL clubs.
Two other former NHLers from Canada, Dustin Boyd and Nigel Dawes, will also suit up for Kazakhstan.
Paek's players have been training since last Thursday. The majority of the players competed in the Asia League Ice Hockey (ALIH) final for the South Korean team Anyang Halla, which defeated Sakhalin for its second straight title.
South Korea will send a handful of North American-born athletes -- No. 1 goalie Matt Dalton; defensemen Eric Regan, Alex Plante and Bryan Young; and forward and Michael Swift.
U.S.-born forward Mike Testwuide will miss the tournament with a concussion.
The team had encouraging performances against world No. 2 Russia in friendly games last month, losing 4-3 and 5-2 despite missing some key pieces.