BUSAN, South Korea -Kimchi, soju, beaches, and …hockey. The last of which doesn’t often come to mind when you think about Busan, let alone South Korea. However, in recent years, interest in the game has been on the rise not only amongst the expat population, but Koreans as well. On the expat side of the equation, this might not be surprising considering there are well over 8,000 Canadians living here – a people who are known worldwide for being unabashed lovers of the frozen game.
Thanks to the persistence of Scott Sanders, a Canadian residing in Kimhae for nearly 10 years, there is a solution for those of you feeling withdrawal from the touch of the puck.
Sanders originally joined a team of Koreans playing in Kimhae, along with Yoo Seung-Min, the founder and captain of the local team, Busan Rhinos. That didn’t last too long, since the team was kicked-off from the local rink due to some faulty Plexiglas “issues.”
“We were banned from the rink because I broke the Plexiglas, on several occasions. So, my friend Jason Henderson and I decided to rent some ice on our own along with another player, Gino Nini.”
Thanks to an advertisement on Korea Bridge, what started out as three guys playing on Sunday nights steadily grew to a healthy squad of enthusiasts.
Every week – except in August – at Bukgu Ice Rink in Deokcheon, you can find a group of expats and Koreans lacing up their skates and taking to the ice. For a couple of hours, this gallimaufry of guys, with the touring name Busan Blades, manage to put their personal NHL loyalties aside and have a friendly game of pick-up. On occasion, members of the Rhinos have been known to join the session. Yoo, aka “Big Brother,” appreciates the coordination level that is required for the game and like the expats, he is more than glad to shred some ice.
Andrew "Murph" Murphy executes his Kim Yu Na-esqe moves on the ice
Traditionally, hockey is a sport that kids learn at an early age. Some players, like American (non-Canadian) Charles Sturtevant, are late bloomers. “I started playing at age 18. Most people quit by that age.”
Others, like Canadian Dustin Heffner have been in training since they were toddlers.
“I began playing hockey at the age of five. I had to have a chair on the ice to keep me from falling.” A practice most beginning ice-skaters can empathize with.
What about the brawls? Chris Murray says those were his highlights as a younger player but, “Don’t worry, this isn’t that type of hockey,” he laughed.
Ice time for the Blades isn’t limited to the boundaries of Busan. Throughout the year, they play against other foreign teams in Korea. Notable competitions include a weekend ball hockey tournament in Seoul, the Hackers Cup over Chuseok holiday, and at times, mixing the seven foreign teams to represent Korea in week long tournaments in Mongolia, Thailand, China, Singapore and most recently, Russia.
The international tournaments are what hockey dreams are made of. According to Tim Thorenton, the highlight of his hockey experience in Korea was when he went to Russia in January with guys from Busan, Seoul, Daejeon and Jeonju. “Playing the games outdoors with a few thousand people watching was absolutely amazing.”
As for local founder, Scott Sanders, he hopes that the number of foreign teams and players in the peninsula continues to grow. Already, the number of guys that regularly come out, along with their fans, is better than he could have hoped for. “Starting with just three guys, we have grown a lot. These are great guys and we have lots of fun every week we lace’em up.”
If you want to join, but you don’t have the gear, there is also a grouping on Tuesday nights at the KukDong Ice Rink in Namcheon playing 3-on-3 pond-style hockey –just skates and a stick. They usually start at 7 pm. Either way, now there’s no excuse for hockey enthusiasts of all abilities not to play the game they love.
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