NATIONAL

Japanese coach 'surprised' with joint Korean hockey team's struggles

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : Feb 13, 2018 - 20:15
  • Updated : Feb 13, 2018 - 20:22

South Korean ice hockey players during PyeongChang Winter Olympics (Yonhap)
On the eve of his team's showdown against the joint Korean team in women's hockey tournament at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Japanese assistant coach Yuji Iizuka said Tuesday he has been "surprised" with Korea's struggles so far.

Korea has dropped its first two games, by a comned score of 16-0. It has lost to Switzerland and to Sweden by identical scores of 8-0, while managing a total of 27 shots in those losses.

Iizuka said he didn't expect Korea to be blown out so badly, especially after Korea had played Sweden tough and lost 3-1 in an exhibition game on Feb. 4. Iizuka added he felt Korea had "really reached a high level" after that contest.

"I thought the tune-up game against Sweden was really good, and I thought the actual game (in the Olympics) would be tight," Iizuka said after his team's optional practice at Kwandong Hockey Training Centre, where only four skaters and two backup goalies took the ice. "I was surprised that the game had so many goals."

Iizuka was the head coach for Japan at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and then started serving as an assistant after that. He was also on the bench when Japan shut out South Korea 3-0 at the Sapporo Asian Winter Games last year.

Iizuka said some shoddy goaltending by the usually reliable Shin So-jung in the Korean net has led to some ugly scores.

"I think the goalkeeper was not at her best," the coach said of Shin, who has given up 16 goals on 102 shots for a save percentage of .843.

Both Korea and Japan are seeking their first-ever victory in the Olympics. This is Japan's third Olympic appearance, and the team affectionately called "Smile Japan" has seven losses in seven games. This is Korea's first Winter Games.

Japan lost to Sweden 2-1 to start the tournament and then fell to Switzerland 3-1. Japan outshot its opponents in both games.

Korea and Japan have both been eliminated from the preliminary round and will be relegated to the classification regardless of the result of their game on Wednesday. But given the storied sporting rivalry between the two countries, it's safe to bet that both teams will go hard after each other.

Japan should be the favorite in this matchup. It's No. 9 in the world, whereas South Korea is No. 22 and North Korea is No. 25.

Japan is 7-0 all-time against South Korea, by a combined margin of 106-1.

"We want to win with a really good game, not just by scoring goals," Iizuka said. (Yonhap)