“Jaewoong is a young player and Man-Gyun is a very big and exciting player so our two goalies are very different from each other, but both have been stepping up their games at the right time."
Through four days of preliminary round play, South Korea has been the surprise team of the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships A-Pool thus far, racking up six points on their home ice to sit decisively in third place in the tournament standings.
With victories over Germany and Norway, and a close loss to world silver medallists Canada, the South Koreans are now increasing their expectations for the tournament in Gangneung.
“Our goal here is to get the bronze medal now, and after winning two of our opening games, we think we can do it,” said star forward Seung-Hwan Jung.
Historically, the host nation of the World Championships A-Pool has made the podium in four of the eight editions of the event. South Korea has only medalled once before at a World Championships A-Pool – taking silver in 2012 in Hamar, Norway – and could now be poised to make the podium for a second time, just a year prior to hosting the Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.
The team has made massive improvements since its seventh-place performance at the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics, having conceded just four goals in its three games in Gangneung. The goaltending duties have been split by 21-year-old Jaewoong Lee and former wheelchair basketball player Man-Gyun Yu, who hold a 1.00 and 1.50 goals against average in the tournament, respectively.
“Jaewoong is a young player and Man-Gyun is a very big and exciting player so our two goalies are very different from each other, but both have been stepping up their games at the right time,” said South Korean assistant coach Taeho Kim.
This event is the third World Championships for Yu, but the first for Lee, who is already trying to overcome the rigours of a busy tournament schedule.
“These close games have been tiring us physically and mentally, but the big thing is that we haven’t given up and won’t give up,” said Lee.
Then there is Jung, a PyeongChang 2018 Ambassador known for his electric speed. He has contributed to half of South Korea’s points in the tournament with two goals and an assist, including the game-winner over Germany. He has received plenty of help up top from fellow forward Jong-Kyung Lee, who is averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game and has a goal and an assist in the tournament.
South Korea is now preparing to face Sweden on Monday (17 April) and will then take on Italy and the USA to finish off preliminary round play.
The 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships are taking place from 11-20 April in Gangneung which is the ice sports venue city for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. The tournament also serves as the Paralympic Test Event, with the top five finishers automatically qualifying for the PyeongChang 2018 Games.
All games from the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships are being streamed live, alongside statistics and results at www.Gangneung2017.com.