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Anyang Halla wins hockey championship

Triumph over Japan’s Oji Eagles is its fifth Asia League victory
Apr 02,2018
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Anyang Halla players and coaches pose for a photo after defeating the Oji Eagles 3-1 to win the Asia League Ice Hockey Championship at Anyang Sports Complex in Gyeonggi on Saturday. [YONHAP]
Anyang Halla defeated Japan’s Oji Eagles 3-1 at the Anyang Sports Complex on Saturday to win its third consecutive Asia League Ice Hockey (ALIH) championship.

Anyang beat Oji with three wins and a loss in the best-of-five series to win the ALIH 2017-2018 title. The Oji Eagles were established in 1925 and are Japan’s oldest ice hockey team.

In 1996, Anyang Halla requested a game with the Oji Eagles, but the Japanese team quickly refused due to the “big gap in the two team’s skill levels.” At that time, Anyang Halla was an amateur ice hockey team. The Korean men’s national ice hockey team wasn’t very good until recently, either, once losing 0-25 to Japan in 1982.

“Japan didn’t approve of the existence of ice hockey in Korea 22 years ago,” said Yang Seung-jun, a Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA) executive.

The ALIH, which was established in 2003, consist of eight professional ice hockey teams from three countries ? Korea, Japan and Russia. Anyang Halla, who had to play with a reduced roster due to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, finished second in the league’s regular season.

During the playoffs, Anyang Halla advanced to the finals after defeating the Tohoku Freeblades. This year, Halla successfully defended its league title for the third consecutive time. The team has five championships, the most in the ALIH.

Anyang Halla’s captain Kim Won-jung had one of the best games of his 12-year ALIH career during the series. In the first of the four championship games, Kim scored his first career hat trick. During the second game, he scored a winning goal.

Kim has been playing for Anyang Halla since 2006. Kim hasn’t been Halla’s main scorer, normally playing as a right wing in either the third or the fourth line. But in the third game of the playoff semifinals, Anyang Halla’s head coach Patrick Martinec assigned Kim in the first line, playing as a right wing.

Along with Kim Ki-sung and Kim Sang-wook, Kim Won-jung played better than expected, becoming the team’s main scorer. Kim’s goals were his first in the playoffs in six years. Kim scored four goals and had three assists during the 2018 postseason. He was also chosen as the series MVP.

“Kim Won-jung is like Park Ji-sung in football,” said Yang. “He’s devoted to the team and does all the hard work.”

Kim has played better when facing Japanese teams. When playing against Japan during the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games, Kim scored a goal, leading Korea to a 4-1 victory.

There is still a large gap between Japanese and Korean ice hockey. Japan has a total of 7,870 registered male ice hockey players, while Korea only has 171.

Behind Halla’s success is Chung Mong-won, president of Halla Group and head of KIHA. Chung established Mando Winia, now the Anyang Halla, in 1994 and fought to keep it afloat during the 1997 financial crisis.

Once he was appointed president of KIHA in 2013, Chung donated 5 to 6 billion won ($4.7 to 5.6 million) each year to the Anyang Halla and 1.5 billion won to the KIHA. Chung showed his passion for the team by traveling along with the team to its first two away games during the championship.

At the PyeongChang Olympics, the Korean national men’s ice hockey team had 12 Anyang Halla players.

Now that the season is over, the Korean national team will head to Denmark in May to compete at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Ice Hockey World Championship.

BY PARK RIN [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]