Ex-Penguins Stanley Cup champ Jim Paek leads South Korean Olympic team
NHL players might not be participating in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, but a former Pittsburgh Penguin and two-time Stanley Cup champion is playing a prominent role for host South Korea and its men's hockey team.
Jim Paek, a defenseman for the Pens in the 1991 and 1992 seasons, was the first Korean-born player in the National Hockey League. He also was the first Korean-born player to win the Stanley Cup.
Paek has served as head coach of the South Korean national team for the past four years in preparation of the Olympics. The host country faces the Czech Republic on Thursday. Also in that group are Canada and Switzerland.
"Being born in Korea and always dreaming of being an Olympian as a player — I don't play anymore — but being a coach and representing the country where you were born, that pretty much was a no-brainer," said Paek, 50 .
Paek played for the Canadian national team in 1990-91.
"But I'm here as a Korean, and this is my heritage," he told Reuters.
When South Korea was announced as the host of the 2018 Winter Olympics in 2011, its men's hockey team ranked 31st in the world. It has climbed 10 spots since under Paek's guidance.
That is in large part due to him convincing six Canadian players and one American — Mike Testwuide, a forward from Colorado who has played five years in the Asia Hockey League — to become Korean naturalized citizens and join the team.
The Pens drafted Paek in the ninth round of the 1985 NHL Draft, and he made his debut in the 1990-91 season.
The team traded Paek in the 1993-94 to the Los Angeles Kings. He signed with the Ottawa Senators the following year.
Paek left the NHL after playing parts of six seasons and played eight more seasons in various minor leagues.
Before taking over the South Korean hockey program in 2014, Paek served nine seasons as an assistant coach for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.
South Korea has been listed as a 500-to-1 longshot of winning the Gold Medal. That doesn't deter the significance of the team playing in the Olympics for Paek.
"In my eyes, we have already attained success," Paek told MLive .com. "Being apart the Olympics has allowed Korean hockey to grow and be a part of the top 16 hockey countries."