Matt Dalton
AP

South Korea hockey team leans on naturalized Canadian goalie

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SAPPORO, Japan (AP) — Growing up in rural southern Ontario, Matt Dalton never figured that his career path in professional hockey would take him to South Korea.

Dalton, along with a handful of other North American players, has acquired South Korean citizenship and is a key member of the men’s national ice hockey team as it prepares to take on the world’s best as host of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“The possibility of getting citizenship intrigued me,” said the 30-year-old goaltender who is in Sapporo representing South Korea at the Asian Winter Games.

“Also, the job stability,” added Dalton, who played briefly in the Boston Bruins organization. “When you are playing overseas it’s kinda one year at a time. You can get bounced around pretty quick.”

Dalton was playing in Russia in the KHL before getting invited to play for South Korean team Anyang Halla in the Asia Ice Hockey League. The paycheck took him to South Korea. The lure of the Olympics is keeping him there.

The South Korean team has never qualified for the Olympics and is hoping to avoid an embarrassing drubbing on international ice hockey’s biggest stage.

The Korean Olympic Committee asked the justice ministry to fast-track the naturalization of the import players and they were approved in accordance with a revised immigration law that allows qualified foreign nationals to hold multiple citizenships.

Dalton said being able to maintain his Canadian citizenship made the decision a lot easier.

In the 12-nation men’s tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea has been placed in Group A with top-ranked Canada, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, ranked sixth and seventh respectively.

With or without NHL players — the league is still undecided on whether it will take part — that’s a tough group for the hosts.

“Hockey-wise, we are in pretty deep with the competition,” Dalton said. “There are big challenges no doubt. But we are working hard and trying to get better so, hopefully, we can have a good showing for South Korea.”

Former NHL defenseman Jim Paek was hired to coach the team.

Paek, the first Korean-born hockey player to play in the NHL, won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

His team, 23rd in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s rankings, lost their opening game of the Asian Winter Games 4-0 on Wednesday to Kazakhstan, which is No. 16 in the world rankings.

“They are a good team,” Paek said of the Kazakhs. “We had some good chances but we couldn’t capitalize.”

Paek said getting in games against high-level competition is one of the toughest things about preparing his Olympic squad.

“The lack of game experience at a high-level is our biggest challenge,” Paek said. “In order for us to compete with top-nation teams we need to play them. Hockey is a small world where they have their small group of friends and it’s tough to get in and play any games. So we have to do the best we can and move forward.”

At the IIHF’s second-tier tournament in 2014, South Korea went 0-5 on home ice, was outscored by 30-12, a result that saw the team relegated to world hockey’s third tier for 2015.

South Korea has three clubs in the Asian League Ice Hockey, the only professional league in the region. Those clubs provide most of the national team’s roster.

While some would argue the import players are merely hired guns, Paek had a different take.

“Adding the import players has really helped grow and develop our (Korean) players,” Paek said. “I count on the kids that have been developed in Korea a great deal now.”

For now, Dalton and his fellow transplanted teammates will continue to work on their game and adjust to a new culture.

Having Paek as the coach has made the transition much easier.

“The cultures are so different that things don’t always mesh” Dalton said. “So it’s nice to have that buffer there and know he’s got your back.”

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Laurie Hernandez eyes return to competition in 2018

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NEW YORK – Laurie Hernandez hardly considers her 14 months away from competitive gymnastics a break.

Since earning Olympic team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, the 17-year-old won “Dancing with the Stars,” authored a book and even enrolled in ballet lessons.

But her most rewarding experience has been speaking at schools. Students have asked her seemingly every question, from when she started taking gymnastics classes (age 5) to whether she climbed trees when she was younger (yes, all the time).

Seeing how many children were inspired by her Rio performance motivated Hernandez as she prepares to return to the sport.

“I didn’t realize at the Olympics how many people were truly watching,” Hernandez said Wednesday night at the annual Women’s Sports Foundation Salute to Women in Sports. “Now I’m excited to get back into the gym.”

Hernandez recently added handstand holds, back tucks and front flips to her conditioning program, in addition to continuing to run and lift weights.

“It’s a little difficult, but it’s fine,” she said. “I’ll push it a little more after the holidays.”

She has her eye on returning to competition in 2018.

“That’s definitely the hope,” Hernandez said. “I’m not going to rush anything, but I would love to compete in 2018.”

Hernandez, who said her next goal in gymnastics is to compete at the world championships for the first time and hopefully the 2020 Olympics, has not yet identified her comeback meet.

She noted that Aly Raisman took more than two years off after the London Olympics.

“I know every athlete is different,” Hernandez said. “But I wouldn’t mind following in her footsteps.”

Simone Biles, who has not competed since winning four gold medals in Rio, recently announced that she plans on returning to full-time training Nov. 1 and competition next summer.

“I look up to her, even though we are teammates,” Hernandez said. “I can’t wait to see her out there, but hopefully I’ll be out there with her soon.”

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MORE: Laurie Hernandez explains wink, nervous Olympic moments in book excerpt

Olympic cycling champion running for Congress

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Olympic cycling gold medalist Marty Nothstein is the latest to announce he’s running for the eastern Pennsylvania congressional seat being vacated by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Dent.

Dent, a former state senator, is a centrist Republican who has held the seat since 2005. He’s retiring after his term expires next year.

Nothstein, who won sprint silver in 1996 and gold in 2000, is the only American track cyclist to win an Olympic title at a fully attended Games.

Two Republican state representatives, Ryan Mackenzie and Justin Simmons, previously announced they’re running for Dent’s 15th District seat.

Democrat Bill Leiner, a former Lehigh County commissioner, is also running.

Dent’s district includes Allentown and all of Lehigh County, and parts of four surrounding counties.

Republicans in 2011 stretched the district almost 90 miles to the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania to make it more Republican.

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