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Koreans test Finnish hockey ice

Why does one Finnish ice hockey team boast four Korean players? The answer lies six years into the future.

Mestis.
Mestis is the nation's second-highest hockey league. Image: Yle

HC Keski-Uusimaa, which was promoted to the second-tier Mestis league this year, is based in Kerava, some 25km north of Helsinki. This season the side features four players from Seoul, South Korea: Sang Wook Kim, Woo Young Kim, Ki Sung Kim and the Calgary-born Woo Je Sung.

After some initial culture shock after they arrived a month and a half ago, the side gained four new members, the quartet have fit well into the team, where they are officially listed as try-outs so far.

“At first, they looked at us a bit suspiciously,” says defenseman Woo Young Kim. “Like, who’re they and what’re they doing here? After a few practices, though, they noticed that those Asians actually know how to play. Since then, we’ve gotten to know them better."

Eyes on 2018

Team captain Jesse Uronen admits to being a bit baffled at first.

“At first I was, like, huh? From Korea? Do they play hockey there?” he says. “But the guys have been really good on the ice, and great off the ice, too: no-nonsense, polite, completely different from Finns!”

The foursome’s arrival in Finland is tied to the 2018 Winter Olympics, which are to be staged in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Woo Je Sung explained to Yle how the transfer came about.

“Somebody from Anyang Halla, a pro team in the Asia Hockey League, called," he says. "They told me about this new project. The idea was to send the best players to Finland so they could develop for the 2018 Olympics. The team’s paying for everything: rent, a car, everything you need to live here.”

Woo Je Sung has played in junior leagues in Canada, so he serves as the interpreter for the other Korean icemen. Besides the linguistic challenges, the new arrivals have plenty of work to do before they earn regular places in the starting line-up, which also includes players born in Estonia, Sweden and the US.

Hard work adapting

“Technically they’re very skilled, but it’s been hard for them to adopt the Finnish way of playing,” Says head coach Sami Ranta. “I haven’t gotten the kind of results that I’ve tried to get so far. But all of our first-string slots are still open. At this point it looks like two of them will be in our starting line-up.”

In their first game of the season -- and first in their new league --  HCK played to a 1-1 tie in an away game against the Häme team Lempäälän Kisa.

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