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

USA Hockey to start reaching out to potential replacement players

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USA Hockey will begin reaching out to “alternate players” to determine their interest in playing for the U.S. at the women’s world championship next week amid a potential boycott by its national team.

The contact is taking place in the event a resolution cannot be reached between USA Hockey and the women’s national team in a wage dispute.

“It’s important for everyone to understand clearly that our objective is to have the players we named as the U.S. women’s national team be the ones that compete in the world championship,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, in a statement. “Productive conversations have taken place this week and are ongoing in our collective efforts to reach a resolution.”

The alternate players are in the professional NWHL and college, according to USA Today, a report that USA Hockey would not confirm.

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan has said every player in the U.S. national team player pool, plus under-18 national team players, committed to not playing at worlds unless the wage dispute is resolved.

“We are confident that they [potential replacement players] would choose not to play,” the U.S. players said in a statement.

The world championship tournament starts March 31 in Plymouth, Mich.

As of Thursday evening, no resolution has come between USA Hockey and its women’s national team. They met formally on Monday for more than 10 hours, with both sides calling it productive.

“We ask that they approve the original agreement that, the players believed, was acceptable to both parties after Monday’s meeting,” the players said in a statement. “Unless there is an agreement, the players remain resolved to bypass the defense of the world championship.”

Neither side has said when the next meeting will take place.

On Tuesday, USA Hockey said it postponed a pre-worlds camp that was to run through next Tuesday in Traverse City, Mich., and canceled a scheduled Friday exhibition against Finland.

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MORE: NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

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International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel tells The Associated Press he needs to know by the end of April whether NHL players will be cleared to play in the South Korea Olympics next year.

NHL team owners have made it clear they don’t want to stop their season again for the Winter Games and put their stars at risk of injury. The reluctance has come up before and yet the NHL has participated in the Olympics since 1998. This time, however, there seems to be an impasse.

The head of the NHL Players Association, Donald Fehr, says the players want to participate and hopes the league will take advantage of the chance to market the game in Asia.

However, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says without “material change to the current status quo, NHL players will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.”

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MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set