Paek fulfills dream leading Korea to Olympics
In the 1990s, he shared his desire to become part of the Korean national team. Fast forward to 2015, he is not only in the centre of Korean hockey but will also take the team to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games on home ice.
Paek was born in Seoul, Korea, but moved to Toronto at an early age. At the age of 15 he returned to his native country and started to spread the hockey virus he was infected with in Canada. Two Stanley Cup rings and 33 years later, he is still involved with Korean hockey. The director of the Korea Ice Hockey Association is also the head coach of the men’s team that currently is aiming for promotion at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B.
With two comfortable victories over Estonia and the Netherlands, the coach can be satisfied with his team.
Paek: “The players buy into the system we as a coaching staff provide them with. I’m very pleased to see that my players see the benefits of the hard work put in by the staff in order to get better and with Richard Park they have got a great guy in doing so.”
Getting better to improve, it’s key for Jim Paek, who is not shy of making his players clear that there’s no room for a standstill.
“Every step on the ice we need to get better. I believe in the program we started up as of Day 1 which begins with this World Championship and ends at the 2018 Olympics,” explains Paek. “So far we’ve been better than yesterday every day and I feel really blessed with this group of players. When I notice how much they have developed as players in a short period of time that’s nothing short of fantastic. What I love most about them is their eagerness to learn and improve and the hard work they put in. That makes it really exciting for a coach.”Continue reading
The year 2018 entered the conversation. To some it’s just a four figure number, but not for Korea. It will without doubt be one of the most important years in Korean hockey history. With the Winter Olympics hosted in the country (PyeongChang), Korea will make their first ever Olympic ice hockey appearance.
“I was right there in the room when IIHF President René Fasel announced we would get a ticket for the tournament,” says a visibly emotional Paek. “I was elated and in tears. It was always my dream to be involved in Korean hockey and to lead them into the Olympics is simply amazing.”
After the joy, the reality kicked in. Currently ranked 23rd in the world and playing on the third level, the question how to prepare Korea to be competitive against countries with the stature of Canada, USA, Russia or Sweden became actual.
“I can’t control wins and losses but I can control how hard the players work and which systems they play in,” knows Paek. “I can assure you, people will see a competitive Korea team on the ice in 2018.”
Fully in line with the Olympic spirit that it’s the participation that counts, Paek is not aiming for silverware but instead is hoping for a post-Olympic spinoff that will see the sport surge even further in his country.
“Once Koreans put their mind behind supporting a sport, they go 100%. You saw that with speed skating and short track before and hopefully the same will happen with ice hockey after the Olympics and the sport can continue to grow from there,” says the hopeful former NHL player, who does see areas for improvement.
“We really need to get more players involved in hockey,” knows Paek. “There’s a lot of young players but there’s not enough teams and leagues available to them to have them continue player after the age of 13.”
It requires involvement from many people and organizations but Paek focusses especially on the educational part which is traditionally a great feeder system for the country’s successful sports programs.
“Education is very important to me. I believe that when you’re smart at school that it transfers onto the ice. The Korean educational system is really helping the athletic programs by providing them with various services that will not hinder their sports development but at the same times keeps the educational level up. Now it’s important to find a common ground between all parties involved and get the right people together. Overall, I do really sense there’s a general believe in the ambition to get better and grow the sport in Korea.”
But before that, Paek wants to ensure his team is gaining consistency.
“We have got the skill and a quality group of players, although small in number. For me it’s vital we do not become an elevator team that gets promoted and relegated all the time. If we can become consistent that would be a solid foundation to build on to.”
Another foundation that can thrive results is the support of the family. The 48-year-old himself can speak from experience how grateful he was and is with the support he was given by his parents in his younger days.
His ties with Korean hockey are also very much linked with his parents as it was his father who took Paek to Korea in 1982 which later on led to the emerge of the Jim Paek Hockey Schools and much more.
“We did everything there in the beginning, ranging from importing equipment to building arenas. There even was a Jim Paek Hockey League which brought forward some good teams. My father has done a great job in keeping up with the connections.”
Paek: “To date I have people walking up to me telling me I have coached them at middle or high school. Now these persons are fathers themselves and it has me realize how long I’ve been involved in Korean hockey.”
Just before the team boarded a plane to Europe to prepare for the World Championship, the head coach also introduced a family day. An event in which the players could bring their parents, siblings, wives, girlfriends and children. It turned out to be a great success with parents putting on skates for the first time trying to play some hockey.
“I was truly impressed with the number of people that showed up. The staff did a great job in organizing that day,” he admits. “When I see how parents support their sons and daughters in sports in Korea that’s nothing short of amazing. They really do take an interest outside of academics and now have fully embraced sports inside the educational part. That has really been an eye opener to me.”
Being a father and family man himself, Paek admits he also wants to get better himself. “I would like to be a better father and husband. I’ve been travelling for the last two months and am not there for my wife and kids. She is doing a great job playing two roles now with my son active in hockey camps and my daughter playing volleyball. The way she is managing that is fantastic and makes me guilty.”
He is hopeful the family can rejoin in Korea soon. “They are my biggest supporters and without them it will be hard for me to keep up doing this job.”
They will surely be supporting him and watch all the Korea games in PyeongChang in 2018.
The moment Paek steps into the arena before Korea’s first game he might pinch his arm to make sure his dream has become reality.
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