By Szabolcs Zavodszky – IIHF.com
Kisung Kim has seen a lot of positive change in Korean hockey as the federation prepares for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games on home ice in PyeongChang.
Korean hockey might sound like a mystery to fans from big hockey nations but the story is very familiar to those from the up-and-coming hockey country. In 14 months the coastal city of Gangneung will host the Olympic ice hockey tournaments, which helps putting the sport in a bigger spotlight than before. Korean hockey has been going through a lot of change and one player who has seen a lot of this is veteran forward Kisung Kim, one of Korea’s top forwards in 12 World Championship events at Division I and II level.
“There is some pressure to play well but we can feel the excitement. The Olympics Games will be a great opportunity for Korean hockey to take the next step forward and bring hockey to the next level,” said the prolific scorer.
Kim is a native of Seoul and came up through the local youth system where he played in the high-school league before playing at university level. Just before his 20th birthday he played in his first senior World Championship in 2005 where he finished with three points in four games. Since then he has been a staple of the national team and after graduating in 2008 he became a professional player with Anyang Halla of the Asia League.
Two years ago the Korean Ice Hockey Association decided to go a different direction with the coaching staff and hired Korean-born former NHL player Jim Paek as head coach with Richard Park, another former NHL player of Korean roots, as an assistant coach.
“Since Jim Paek joined the national team a lot has changed. The atmosphere and environment has changed and so has the hockey development as well. There has been a huge change in three years,” said Kim.
Coach Paek during this time found a team leader on the roster. “He is an extremely hard worker who wants to get better every day and asks a lot of questions. For a coach it is exciting to have someone like this. His work ethic is incredible and it seems like he never wants to turn it off. In this way he leads by example for sure and even at his age he is getting better and better,” Paek said.
When asked how he would describe himself as a player Kim said the following: “I try to lead by example. I might not be the most vocal person but I want them to see how I prepare for the games.”
“I am good friends with Bruce Ramsey who was Kisung’s coach in the CHL so I have talked to Bruce about him. It was a great experience for him to come to North America, to learn some English and to become more independent. He has been able to bring that knowledge over and to pass it on to the others,” said Paek.
Kisung Kim spent one season with Tulsa Oilers in the minor league CHL, which he followed up with a season in Finland’s second-tier league Mestis.
“I had a tough season in the CHL. It was different style of hockey, the rinks are at a different size and also the culture was different, the food was different. But it was great for my career. I became more mature as a player,” Kim said.
Since coming back to Korea and playing in the Asia League, Kim has been lighting up the goal lamp. Two seasons ago he had 70 points in 45 games and has developed into a dependable scoring presence for both the Korean national team and his club team Anyang Halla, the first Korean club to win the Asia League.
“We have a larger support staff around the national team. In the past we only had two individuals supporting the team, now we have more people, which is a big change. This means we only need to concentrate on is hockey,” he said.
The way things are going for Kisung Kim and Korean hockey, he will be a face to remember at the 2018 Olympics.
Korea came off a good tournament in November during the international break where it beat host Hungary in the final and left behind Austria and Italy in the group stage. In April the Koreans will compete in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Kyiv, Ukraine.