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The UPEI women's hockey team is giving an Olympic hopeful some valuable ice time as she gears up for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Ye Eun Park, a rookie for UPEI and a member of the South Korean women's national team, is in P.E.I. getting game experience she wouldn't get if she stayed in Korea.

"In Korea, there is only the national women's team, so girls play with boys. They don't have their own teams," said Park, who plays defence.

"Here I got to play a lot of games with other girls and a lot of different teams in Canada and the U.S. ... I think it was really good experience for me."

South Korea is hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics, which means it automatically qualifies in men's and women's hockey.

The South Korean women's team is currently ranked 23rd in the world, so the pressure is on to quickly improve the skill level of players like Park before they face off against top hockey nations like Canada in less than like years.

'It's a higher level'

Park started playing hockey at the age of 10 at the only rink in her city.

"Ice hockey wasn't even popular," she said. "Not a lot of people were playing it."

She tried out for the national team at the age of 15, and cracked the lineup two years later. 

She was playing at the Ontario Hockey Academy when she was spotted by UPEI head coach Bruce Donaldson.
"Clearly the country — Korea — is putting an investment in their athletes," he said. "They have a number of players here in Canada that are very talented."

Park admitted she'd never heard of Prince Edward Island before.

"I actually had no idea about this place," she said. "But then my friends told me it's really pretty here."
It helped that another member of the South Korean women's team, Sojung Shin, was already attending nearby St. Francis Xavier University, where she is the starting goaltender. 
"It's a higher level for sure," Park said of her experience so far in the Atlantic University league. "The game speed is faster, it's more physical and you really need to work hard every time."

A second Olympic hopeful 

This isn't the first time the UPEI women's hockey team has had an Olympic hopeful on the roster.
"We had that experience with Anja Weisser," Donaldson said. "Anja was from Germany and she represented Germany at the Olympics — and she represented UPEI at the Olympics."
Donaldson said he's happy to be repeating the experience with Park.
"Clearly the end sight for her is to be able to participate in the Olympics and our goal is to help her get there," he said.

Park, who is studying psychology at UPEI, is happy for the opportunity.

"It's a big dream for me, and it will be an honour to represent Korea at the Olympics," she said.
"It's the ultimate goal of every athlete in the world and I will be really happy to be there."


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