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NEWS FEATURE Communication the key for combined Korean ice hockey team By Andre Leslie, dpa

Europe, Europa
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
After South Korean ice hockey officials were told in January that they were due to take on 12 new players from the North, the coaching staff had a mammoth task of bringing two very different playing groups together. Terminology was initially one of the biggest barriers, but now the team is "making it work" they say.

Gangneung, South Korea (dpa) - Trying to bring a set of players together inside of a month has proved to be a massive task for the coaching staff of the first combined Korean women‘s ice hockey team.

With three losses in three starts at their home Olympics - the first two games by 8-0 scorelines - it would seem that coach Sarah Murray and her staff have failed to bring everyone‘s favourite underdogs up to speed.

But, in their most recent game on Wednesday against Japan, the united Korean side scored for the first time in the tournament and put in a much stronger showing. Only in the final minutes did the score slip to 4-1.

In front of another raucous crowd at the Kwandong Hockey Centre, the Koreans‘ defence was tighter than in their opening game against Switzerland, where they not only seemed overwhelmed by a host of international dignitaries in attendance but struggled with communication around the goal.

"There certainly have been some challenges related to language on the team," says Randi Heesoo Griffin, who was born in the United States to a Korean mother and started playing with the South Korean side in 2015.

"In particular, because the South Korean players use a lot of English words to talk about hockey. That‘s something that the North Korean players are not familiar with."

Senior player Jo Su Sie helps with translations, Griffin explains, and this helps "bridge that communication divide between the players."

The two Korean languages are slightly different too, adding to the issue.

In accordance with IOC directions, 12 North Koreans are part of the team‘s enlarged 35-member squad. In any given game, at least three of the 22 players suited up have to be from North Korea.

For 29-year-old Murray, a relative newcomer to international ice hockey, the whole experience has been about learning on the job and just rolling with it.

"When the new players came in we wanted them to be a part of our team," the ex-US ice hockey player explains.

"We started doing meetings teaching them everything, gave them a playbook, and whenever we did a system meeting we had our teams together and the South players helped teach the North players.

"They would sit next to them and teach them," she adds. "After two days the North players knew more than our players did."

For Griffin, the lone Korean goalscorer in Wednesday‘s game, all the language and coaching work is starting to make a difference.

"Even today some of the North Korean players were talking to me on the bench and I heard them saying things like ‘line change‘ and ‘face off‘ - so, yep, we‘re making it work."

The team may be out of contention for a medal but they play again in the 5-8th place semi-finals on Sunday.


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