ANYANG CITY, South Korea – The Anyang Halla Club took the first step toward their goal of a third consecutive Asia League Ice Hockey championship on Monday as they opened their two-week long training camp at the Anyang Sports Complex Arena.
Physicals and measurements including on-ice and off-ice tests took place last month. Native Korean players’ unofficial on-ice practices began during the first week of July, as did off-ice training at Jeju-do, a volcanic island in the Korea Strait.
As reigning back-to-back Asia League champions, Halla once again faces the enormous task of defending their crown against the Tohoku Freeblades, who were declared the 2011 ALIH co-champions following the devastating earthquake which struck Japan just prior to the start of the finals on March 11th.
In addition to the Freeblades, five other teams are seeking a championship of their own in 2011-12. For Head Coach Eui-Sik Shim, it isn’t a matter of defending the second title. While last year’s team won the Asia League title, this year’s team hasn’t accomplished anything yet.
“Of course it’s our goal to win our third straight championship, but it’s not going to be easy,” Shim said. “We just have to play a different system of games. Finland managed to win the IIHF despite having average players. They played their system.”
The loss of several key players has raised questions about Halla’s chances to win another championship. The “Korean Rocket,”’ Dong-Hwan Song, the all-time point leader in Korean hockey history, left club to sign with the Nikko Ice Bucks. Halla also lost speedy winger and fan favorite Yu-Won Lee to HIGH1. Top guns Woo-Sang Park and Ki-Sung Kim did not sign with the club due to North Americans opportunities. Sources say both are waiting for a final decision from the American Hockey League’s Springfield Falcons. Last summer, Park was offered try-out but was unable to make the trip because Halla did not grant permission.
Three import players, defensemen Jon Awe, Dustin Wood and Brad fast all said good-bye to the team. However, forward Brock Radunske returned to South Korea last week. Newcomer Ric Jackman has reported as well as Alex Kim.
Halla released centers Hong-Il Kim, Min-Chul Baek, and backup goalie Jung-Moo Kim while center Kyu-Hun Kim left the club to join the military.
On-ice practices commenced on Monday evening with head coach Eui-Sik Shim and his assistant, Justin Bae running the show. Eric Thurston, the head coach of University of Alberta Golden Bears, who has helped Halla run their training camp for the past three years, did not make the trip this year. In addition, assistant coach Patrik Martinec has left the club to join the HC Sprata Praha bench in his native Czech Republic.
Halla has signed two college prospects, forward Kook-Hwan Moon (Han-Yang University) and defenseman Woo-Young Kim (Korea University) to one-year contracts. Veteran defenseman Kyung-Won Yoon, who served in the military for the past two years, is back for one more stint. Halla also signed former HIGH1 forward Young-Jun Lee to a one-year contract.
So now, the hard work begins again and a new foundation must be built. Every season presents unique challenges, circumstances and obstacles. Every season also presents new hope and opportunities. For the past two years, Halla fulfilled their goal of bringing championship titles to South Korea, but the time has come to forget about that and forge ahead.
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Photo Credits: Anyang Halla Hockey Club