GANGNEUNG -- Sarah Murray, head coach of the unified Korean women's hockey team, isn't usually one to show emotions. But she thinks she will shed tears when she has to bid farewell to the 12 players from North Korea at the end of the ongoing PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
The team of 23 South Korean players and 12 North Koreans was assembled only on Jan. 25, but over the past few weeks, Murray said the players have bonded like "a family." Murray has also developed a strong rapport with North Korean assistant coach Pak Chol-ho, and she said it's going to be an emotional occasion to send the North Koreans back home.
Korea's final game will be the seventh-place match against Sweden on Tuesday.
Sarah Murray (L), head coach of the unified Korean women`s hockey team, and her assistant Pak Chol-ho look at their players during practice at Kwandong Hockey Training Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 19, 2018. (Yonhap)
"It's really sad. I don't usually cry. But I think I am going to cry when they go," Murray said after Monday's practice. "It's been tough to come together so quickly. Then you start caring about these players. And then they go back, and you don't know when you're going to see them again. We're trying to make sure there's some connection, so hopefully maybe we can do exchange games, and continue to help those players and see them again in the future. Definitely a sad moment."
Players and coaches alike took some time on the ice after practice to take souvenir photos. Murray said she hopes those photos will give Pak and his North Korean players something to remember the Olympics by.
"We were just taking pictures together because we don't know when we'll be able to do pictures like that again," she said. "We're going to print out all the pictures that we take, and we're going to give them to (Pak), so he has memories to take back with him."
Murray is planning a team lunch Wednesday after the final game. But even after the tournament is over for Korea, the coach plans to keep working with the North Korean players, hoping to teach as much about the game as she possibly can.
"We're going to try to keep practicing with the players from North Korea because we want to keep teaching them and having them get better," she said. "We haven't got it approved yet, but we're trying right now because we want to help them as much as we can. We have five extra days (before the closing ceremony) to teach, and we want to make sure we take that opportunity."
But first, there is a game to play. Murray's team lost to Sweden 8-0 last Monday in the preliminary round, a game that she said isn't a true indication of what her players are capable of.
"Playing against Sweden is a good opportunity for us to show that 8-0 score shouldn't happen," she said. "It's the second chance to prove ourselves. This is a revenge match to show what Korean hockey can do."
South Korea faced Sweden twice last July in exhibition games. Then after the joint Korean team was formed, its only tune-up game prior to the Olympics was against Sweden on Feb. 4.
"They know what we're going to do, and we also know what they're going to do," Murray said. "It's the last game in a tough tournament. It's just going to be who wants it more and who's more conditioned and more rested. It's more of a grind than a system battle."(Yonhap)