By Yoo Jee-ho
JINCHEON, South Korea, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) -- Former National Hockey League (NHL) forward Richard Park is now a proud coach for the South Korean men's national team. As an assistant to Jim Paek, another former NHL player, Park, who was born in Seoul but raised in the United States, said he particularly likes the drive and determination in his players.
"I use the word 'resolve,' the desire not to accept defeat and the desire never to stop, no matter what the score and no matter what the adversity may be right in front of you," Park told Yonnap News Agency on Monday during the national team media day at Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, 90 kilometers south of Seoul.
The team is gearing up for its first Olympics at PyeongChang 2018, which starts on Feb. 9.
Richard Park (C, front row), assistant coach for the South Korean men's hockey team, speaks during a press conference at Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, on Jan. 22, 2018. (Yonhap)
"Our guys have proven time and time again that they keep their mouths shut, they do as they're told, they play for one another and they know that the rest will take care of itself," Park added.
Park and Paek, who have been with the team since 2014, form a coaching lineup of a caliber that South Korea has never before enjoyed -- two no-nonsense instructors with NHL credentials. Paek is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Park played in 738 NHL games -- compared to Paek's 217 -- for six teams.
Even with the help of these two coaches, South Korea will face an uphill battle at the Olympics. The 22nd-ranked team got a spot in the Olympics as the host nation and will face Canada, world No. 1 and two-time reigning Olympic champion, plus No. 6 Czech Republic and No. 7 Switzerland.
Though there will be no NHL players this time, the talent gap between South Korea and the rest of the group may be such that a winless performance isn't entirely out of the question.
Park said the job for the coaches is to keep expectations realistic while preparing the players the best they can.
"In the Olympics, you're going to have expectations, and we need to exceed anybody's expectations for sure, not just by a little, but by a lot," the coach said. "You've got to be honest in assessing the situation and be honest with a scenario where it's almost David versus Goliath. We're not Goliath. That's the reality of it."
But Park said the players' confidence in themselves has been on the rise in recent years, especially since they reached the highest level of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship last April.
This undated file photo provided by the Korea Ice Hockey Association shows Richard Park (L), assistant coach of the South Korean men's national team, talking to Jim Paek, the head coach, at a practice session. (Yonhap)
"I think, as long as you know there's a chance, that's all you can hope for," he said. "Our guys have character. What that translates to, I can't tell you. But I know one thing. We'll fight right to the end."
Park said as special as the Olympic Games will be for himself as a Korean-born former athlete, the competition will belong to the players.
"This is a very special moment for every athlete that's participating in the Olympics, whatever sport you're in," he said. "This is, for some, a moment that might not come again in their lifetime. It's important that they cherish and enjoy and soak up every minute. These don't come along very often, especially for this particular group. Personally, I am no different. I am going to enjoy the experience."
Park called hockey "the greatest game in the world" because of its complex nature, which doesn't allow players or coaches to focus on just one area. And that's what makes practices and games fun as well, he said.
"We (coaches) go out and make sure we work hard and we have fun and it's enjoyable for players," Park said. "I think players have had a great experience being part of the national team, and I think there's a little bit more emotion now that they're Olympians. Everything gets heightened. It's a good moment, and we're going to enjoy it."