South Korea will be the first to admit, they are by far the ice oldest sledge hockey team in the world.
“Compared to other countries such as America or Canada, the average age of our players is far higher. That’s why we always worry about an injury of our players,” said IPC One to Watch Seung-Hwan Jung.
South Korea’s youngest player is 23-year-old Ju-Seung Lee, while their oldest player, Sung-Keun Sa turns 47 on Tuesday (21 January).
Getting ready for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, South Korea have already felt the burden of an older squad.
In December, South Korea participated in the 2013 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Toronto, where they finished in fourth place and failed to win a game.
They were not satisfied with the result in Toronto even with the variety of challenges that they faced including the large time zone difference, unfamiliar food and the injury situation – at one point, they had five players injured.
It wasn’t all bad, though, as they held the No. 1-ranked Canada to a 2-1 score in the semi-final matchup of the tournament. Young-Jae Cho scored in the game and put himself on the map as a top-tier defenceman in the world. Cho was South Korea’s top scorer in the tournament with three points.
Moving back a little further, ever since their debut on the world stage at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics, South Korea have been a team on the rise. They placed sixth in Vancouver, and two years later at the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool in Hamar, Norway, they won a shocking silver medal.
Their 2013 resume was quite impressive as well. Despite finishing in seventh place at the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool in front of their home fans in Goyang, South Korea, they rebounded to win the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Qualification Tournament in Torino, Italy, in October by defeating the host nation 3-2 in a shootout.
Now, the hosts of the PeyongChang 2018 Paralympics are prepared for medal contention in Sochi.
“Now we want more. The belief that we can do it makes us excited for the upcoming Games,” said Jung, who was named Best Forward at the Qualification Tournament.
Jung has been South Korea’s star player over the last Paralympic cycle and has arguably become the fastest sledge player on ice.
The king of speed said sledge hockey fans can expect good things out of South Korea come the start of the preliminary round in Sochi, where they have been placed in Group B with Russia, USA and Italy:
“Speedy forwards with their powerful, accurate shoots as well as speedy defenders with powerful body checks. And also stable blocking of our goalie, Man-Gyun Yu.”
Yu was solid for South Korea in both Torino and Toronto this season, logging the most minutes of any goaltender.
He will once again be relied on when South Korea faces a tough task against host nation Russia to open their Paralympic play on 8 March at 20:00 (UTC).