South Korea men’s hockey coach Jim Paek is, in a sense, ignoring the Olympic host nation’s long odds at the PyeongChang Winter Games.
“My expectation is gold, absolutely,” Paek, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, said Wednesday, according to Yonhap News Agency. “Why do we even play if we don’t prepare to win the gold? In order for us to be successful, we have to think and act like an elite team. Win or lose, I don’t have the crystal ball. But I know we’ve prepared extremely hard for the last three years.”
Paek, the first South Korean-born NHL player, was hired almost exactly three years ago to develop the men’s program into a respectable Olympic team.
Paek replaced a coach who guided South Korea at a low-tier 2014 World Championship tournament to an 0-5 record with a minus-20 goal differential.
This year, the South Koreans won four of five games in the same tournament with a mix of native Koreans and naturalized Canadians. Their top defenseman and goalie, both Canadian-born, had brief NHL stints.
They received promotion to the top-level world championship for the first time next year.
“We’ve earned [our way] into that elite level of hockey,” Paek said, according to Yonhap. “We understand that it’s a different world, but we’re going to try to make them chase us. I believe we can do that.”
Still, South Korea is the lowest-ranked nation in the 2018 Olympic tournament at 21st overall, six spots below the next lowest, Slovenia. They’re grouped in PyeongChang with Canada, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, three nations ranked in the top seven in the world.
“I hope Canada thinks [it can win handily] so we can slide in there and beat them,” Paek said with a smile, according to Yonhap.
The South Koreans should benefit from the NHL not participating in the Olympics for the first time since 1994. They will also learn from joining Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic in a pre-Olympic tournament in Russia in December.
“If we lose by 100 goals or whatever before the Olympics, that’s OK,” Paek said, according to Yonhap. “You have to fail in order to get better.”
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