Saturday, February 10, 2018

Swiss top unified Koreans

Despite falling 8-0 to Switzerland in their PyeongChang opener, the unified Korean women’s team made Olympic history on Saturday.

On any other night, Swiss star Alina Muller’s Olympic-record six-point night (4-2-6) would have dominated the headlines. But the diplomatic implications of this game in the quest for peace and unity were impossible to ignore.
Saturday marked the first time that the Republic of Korea in the south and the Democratic People’s Republic (DPR) of Korea in the north have ever fielded a joint team in any Olympic sport. The agreement was only finalized in January. The 2018 women’s hockey team is competing under a blue-and-white flag depicting the Korean peninsula.
Among the 3,601 spectators, having some 200 red-clad female North Korean cheerleaders singing, clapping and swaying added to the unforgettable atmosphere at the Kwandong Hockey Centre.
Phoebe Staenz and Lara Stalder also scored twice for Switzerland, which outshot Korea 52-8. Sara Benz added three assists. As hard as the Korean women worked, they couldn’t match their opponents’ skill and opportunism.
Muller was the youngest player in Sochi at 15 when the Swiss women won their historic 2014 Olympic bronze medal. Her explosion here tied the single-game goals record co-owned by Switzerland’s Stephanie Marty and Sweden’s Pernilla Winberg, who both had four-goal games at the 2010 Winter Games. With six points, she also equalled Canada's Cherie Piper (2006) and Jayna Hefford (2010) for the most points in one game.
Korea has an exemption to have a 35-player roster, but can only ice 22 players in a game, like the other seven Olympic teams. From a pool of 12 DPR Korea players, head coach Sarah Murray chose to dress three forwards: Chung Gum Hwang, who helped to carry the Korean flag at Friday's opening ceremonies; Su Hyon Jong, who carried the Olympic torch along with South Korean captain Jongah Park; and Un Hyang Kim.
In this developing hockey nation, the fans responded enthusiastically even to simple plays like dump-ins or near-misses. There was a constant feeling of cresting anticipation. Even with victory out of reach, the crowd hungered for a goal.
Switzerland’s Florence Schelling set a new record for most Olympic games played by a goalie (15). The 2014 Olympic MVP was previously tied with Finland’s Noora Raty (active) and Russia’s Irina Gashennikova (retired) with 14 apiece. Schelling also tied Canada’s Kim St-Pierre (retired) for most career Olympic shutouts (four).
Fired up, the Koreans came out hard, getting two consecutive power plays. They also got the best early chance. Heewon Kim, this tournament’s youngest player at 16, stole the puck from Stalder at the blue line. When Stalder hauled her down, Soojin Han sped in on a breakaway and zinged it off the cross bar.
But the good times were short-lived for the hosts. The feisty Muller opened the scoring on a shorthanded solo rush, cutting inside on the Korean defence and beating netminder So Jung Shin to the glove side at 10:23.
Just a minute later, Muller made it 2-0 on another outnumbered rush, converting Sara Benz’s cross-ice pass past the defenceless Korean goalie.
The 19-year-old ZSC Lions Frauen sniper completed her natural hat trick at 19:48. The Swiss worked it around the zone like the famous 1980’s Soviet “Green Unit,” and Muller banged it home at the goalie’s left post.
At 1:26 of the second period, Muller capitalized on a Korean giveaway in the slot and wired home her fourth of the night. Just 55 seconds later, Evelina Raselli fed Staenz cross-ice on the rush to make it 5-0. Staenz clicked again on another Raselli set-up at 17:19 to give Switzerland a six-goal lead.

In the third period, Stalder made it 7-0 at 9:42 with a power play drive, and then coolly finished off a breakaway at 11:48 to round out the scoring.
Korea’s Olympic hockey debut attracted big names. IOC President Thomas Bach, Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, and Kim Yong-nam (President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly) entered the arena with smiles and handshakes. Also present were Switzerland’s Federal President Alain Berset, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder attended with his Korean fiancee Kim So-yeon.

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