Ex-NHL coach still learning new team, culture in Korea

By Yonhap
  • Published : Aug 28, 2017 - 13:43
  • Updated : Aug 28, 2017 - 13:43
Former National Hockey League coach Kevin Constantine was hired by a South Korean club, Daemyung Killer Whales, two months ago, and the learning process hasn't stopped for the American.

And he wouldn't have it any other way.

"For me, the opportunity to coach the game and experience a new culture would be two of the favorite things I can do in life,"

Constantine said at a preseason media conference for the Asia League Ice Hockey, whose 2017-2018 season will begin Sept. 2.

"I am new, so I am just trying to learn our players and trying to learn hockey in Korea," he added. "Our players are working hard. I think they're improving. But they still have long ways to go and a lot of work to do. So we're showing up at the rink every day trying to work on our game."

Kevin Constantine, head coach of the South Korean hockey team Daemyung Killer Whales, speaks at a press conference in Seoul on Aug. 28, 2017, before the start of the 2017-2018 Asia League Ice Hockey season. (Yonhap)

Indeed, the Killer Whales face an uphill climb toward respectability, after finishing in eighth place among nine teams last season with just seven regulation wins in 48 games.

In comes Constantine, who has coached the San Jose Sharks, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils in the NHL. He has also had stints in the Western Hockey League and other major junior circuits.

With Constantine at the helm for the first time in the 1993-1994 season, the Sharks recorded 82 points, an improvement of an NHL-record 58 points from the previous season.

In his first season with the Penguins in 1997-1998, Constantine led them to the Northeast Division title with 98 points.

Constantine, 58, has also coached the US men's junior national team. The Killer Whales said they liked his track record of working with young players, and Constantine said he's trying to implement a system where the team takes precedence over individuals while also leaving room for talented skaters to thrive.

"We're trying to put in a way of playing that allows a team to be better than people playing individual games," he said. "But we're trying to leave room for individual talent in the plan."

Constantine has also coached in Switzerland. He said, aside from the difference in the size of the rinks, hockey is "99 percent the same" no matter where it's played. He did note that there is more physicality on smaller ice in North America, and skating and passing are at a premium on bigger ice in Asia.

Kim Bum-jin, captain of the South Korean hockey team Daemyung Killer Whales, speaks at a press conference before the start of the 2017-2018 Asia League Ice Hockey season in Seoul on Aug. 28, 2017. (Yonhap)

As an American coach working in an Asian league, Constantine said he's trying to combine the best of both worlds.

"If I can bring some of the North American part of the game, with energy and competitiveness, and mix in with what I find Korean players are good at -- high work ethic and tremendous amount of coachability -- then we can build a good foundation for the future," Constantine said. "We're trying to be as competitive as we can as soon as we can."

Constantine's captain, defenseman Kim Bum-jin, said his coach emphasizes that "everything matters" on the ice, and that he and the rest of the team are "getting better every day."

"We're working hard every day, and we're thirsty for more," Kim said. "We're all happy to have this learning opportunity. We're all trying to shed bad habits from the past, and hopefully by the end of the season, we'll have become a better team." (Yonhap)