(Yonhap Interview) Former NHL All-Star 'surprised' with S. Korean performance vs. Russia
By Yoo Jee-ho
GANGNEUNG, South Korea, March 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea lost both of its two men's hockey friendly games against Russia over the weekend on home ice, but the team's strong efforts still surprised many.
That includes Alexei Zhamnov, former National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star now handling scouting for the Russian national team.
Russia beat South Korea 4-3 on Saturday and 5-2 on Sunday 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.
Russia didn't have its top NHL players and assembled a team of mostly under-25 players in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). On Saturday, the world No. 2 had some late adventures against the 23rd-ranked South Korea on Saturday, as the host scored three times in the third period. On Sunday, Russia trailed 2-1 early in the second period but rallied with four unanswered goals.
Alexei Zhamnov, former National Hockey League All-Star from Russia, poses for pictures after a men's hockey friendly match against South Korea at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on March 19, 2017. (Yonhap)
But Zhamnov, 46, gave credit to South Korean head coach Jim Paek, former NHL defenseman himself.
"To be honest, I was kind of surprised (with the South Korean team)," Zhamnov told Yonhap News Agency after Sunday's game. "I know the coach (Paek). He has a lot of experience on the bench, and he did a tremendous job in these games. He made the right decisions. The Korean guys played consistently and stayed with their system."
Zhamnov and Paek faced each other during their NHL careers. While Paek won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, Zhamnov enjoyed a strong career himself. He was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team as center in the shortened 1994-1995 season, after scoring 30 goals in just 48 games for the Winnipeg Jets. He later served as captain for the Chicago Blackhawks from 2002 to 2004.
His post-playing career took him back to Russia, where he's served as general managers for three KHL clubs, including his current stop, HC Spartak Moscow.
"It's a little different," Zhamnov said of his administrative job in comparison to his playing career. "When you're in a player's shoes, you just think about go and play the games. When you're the GM, you have to pick players, sign contracts and build a team. It's not easy, but it's a fun job."
Zhamnov travels with the national team to international events, and will be back here for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
It's still not clear if the NHL stars will compete at the Olympics, as the talks between the league and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are still ongoing. If the stars like Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins can't come, Russia will still have its pool of KHL talent.
"The KHL is probably the best league in the world after the NHL," Zhamnov said. "If the players from the NHL come to South Korea, it's going to be a lot of fun. People will see the best players on the ice. (If not), the world still has a lot of good players."