Women regulars return to practice for joint Korean hockey team

Germany Hockey team
Representational picture Reuters

Regular members of the joint Korean women's hockey team returned to practice in South Korea on Tuesday, with the squad's first game at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics only four days away.

The 35 players -- 23 from South Korea and 12 from the north -- arrived here, the site of all hockey games during the Olympics, at around 1 a.m. on Monday, hours after losing to Sweden 1-3 in their first game together, reports Yonhap news agency.

Just after noon on Monday, mostly the players who didn't dress for Sunday's game practiced at Kwandong Hockey Centre, where all of Korea's group stage games will be played.

And most of those who skipped Monday's first practice returned to the ice at Kwandong on Tuesday.

Korea was only scheduled to train from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., but head coach Sarah Murray added two new slots: from 1:15 p.m. to 2 p.m. and again from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

It wasn't immediately clear why she added two extra sessions. Murray and her players left the rink without speaking to reporters after the first practice.

The first session featured 22 players, including South Korean mainstays like captain Park Jong-ah and first line center Grace Lee, along with five North Koreans. Of those five, Jong Su-hyon, Ryo Song-hui, Kim Un-hyang and Hwang Chung-gum played against Sweden, and forward Choe Jong-hui joined them in Tuesday's first practice.

Choe played on the top North Korean line at last year's International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship Division II Group A tournament here in Gangneung. Choe was named the Player of the Game in North Korea's 4-2 victory over Slovenia.

These 35 players have been together since January 25, five days after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved an inter-Korean agreement on the joint team.

After working with the two groups separately for a couple of days, Murray brought all 35 together for joint practices starting on January 28.

South Korea is ranked 22nd in the world, three spots above North Korea.

The joint team's first game is against world No. 6 Switzerland at 9:10 p.m. on Saturday, with fifth-ranked Sweden up next at 9:10 p.m. next Monday. The final group match is against ninth-ranked Japan at 4:40 p.m. on February 14.

The Koreas have had joint teams in table tennis and youth football at world championships but have never assembled unified squads in any sports in the Olympic Games.

Source: IANS