The unheralded South Korean men’s hockey team put a scare into reigning Olympic champion Canada, losing 4-2 at a pre-Olympic tournament in Russia on Wednesday.
The South Koreans, who only made the Pyeongchang Olympic tournament because they are hosts, led 2-1 after the first period. Canada scored two goals in the second and an empty-netter in the final minute.
Canada outshot South Korea 57-10, according to Hockey Canada.
The Canadian roster Wednesday, while of course lacking NHL players, included many who should be on the nation’s Olympic team of 25.
South Korea is coached by Jim Paek, the first Korean-born NHL player who won Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.
South Korea is by far the lowest-ranked nation in the 12-team Olympic men’s hockey field at No. 21. The host nation plays Canada in a preliminary round game Feb. 18 in Pyeongchang.
“I hope Canada thinks [it can win handily] so we can slide in there and beat them,” Paek said in July, according to Yonhap News Agency, adding that his expectation is a gold medal. “If we lose by 100 goals or whatever before the Olympics, that’s OK. You have to fail in order to get better.”
Canada is ranked No. 1 in the world but will be one of the teams hardest hit by the NHL’s decision not to participate in the Olympics for the first time since 1994.
Canada will try to become the first team to win three straight Olympic men’s hockey titles since the Soviet Union/Unified Team in 1984, 1988 and 1992.
South Korea’s national team includes multiple naturalized Canadians, like No. 1 goalie Matt Dalton. Dalton spent several days with the Boston Bruins during the 2009-10 season but never saw game action.
Three years ago, 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. They received promotion to the top-level world championship for the first time next year.
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