Feb. 10 (UPI) — GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb. 10 — Perhaps no other athletes or team received as much time in the spotlight on Saturday at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as the joint Korean women’s hockey team.
But the players on the ice melted under that spotlight.
Switzerland hammered Korea 8-0 in the teams’ first Group B contest in the women’s tournament at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung. The shots were 52-8 in favor of Switzerland. And incredibly, the game may have been even more lopsided than the final score indicates.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in was among the dignitaries taking in the first game for the historic joint team. The two Koreas have never before fielded a unified team in any sport at an Olympic Games.
Moon was joined by Kim Yo Jong, sister of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, the North’s nominal head of state. They traveled to South Korea on Friday to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and stayed in the country to watch the hockey game with Moon. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach was also in the stands.
They were joined by hundreds of North Korean cheerleaders, but they did little to help the players against the Swiss onslaught.
Switzerland scored three goals in the first period, all of them by forward Alina Muller, and Moon and others in the stands were caught on camera wearing rather glum facial expressions.
The cheerleaders kept on with their singing and clapping, but before people could settle back into their seats to start the second period, Switzerland went up 5-0, with two goals coming inside the opening three minutes.
Korea tried to keep the game somewhat respectable, but it was 6-0 before the end of the period, on a goal by Phoebe Staenz, her second of the night, at 17:19.
Switzerland piled on with two more goals in the third to complete the rout.
Apparently too anxious to put on a show before the packed house of 6,000, Korea had a jittery start to the game and never recovered. South Korean forward Han Soo-jin hit the crossbar midway through the opening frame, and that was as close as it came to scoring.
Head coach Sarah Murray attributed the loss mostly to nerves.
“I think in the first period we were nervous and it’s hard to come back from that,” she said. “We definitely didn’t play the systems as well as I wanted us to play, as well as we know we can play. But we can’t change what happened. We’re just moving forward.”
The team is composed of 23 South Koreans and 12 North Koreans. While Korea is carrying 12 more players than every other team in the tournament, the actual game roster of 22 — 20 skaters and two goalies — remains unchanged. Of the 22, at least three must be North Koreans, and head coach Sarah Murray used forwards Jong Su-hyon and Kim Un-hyang and defender Hwang Chung-gum for the occasion.
Much like the rest of the team, the three North Koreans accomplished little in this game. Jong led all North Koreans with 20:58 of ice time, while Kim played a little over seven minutes and Hwang played 7:49.
The defenders had trouble clearing the puck out of their own zone all night long, and were flustered against heavy forechecking by the Swiss. Korea is the smallest team in the tournament, with an average height of 160 centimeters and weight of 58 kilograms. The Swiss players, on average, are 8 centimeters taller and 5 kilograms heavier.
The defense corps left goalie Shin So-jung out to dry, but Shin did make some spectacular saves to hold Switzerland to a single-digit score.
“I think the Swiss players knew how to bother me, and I had trouble tracking the puck through their screens,” Shin said. “We were all nervous. This was our first Olympics and we’d never played before this kind of crowd.”
With only eight shots on goal, Korea never put forth much of an offense, wasting six power play chances.
Of the eight shots, first-line center Lee Jin-gyu had four. Park Jong-ah, team captain and top best scorer, was held in check and was minus-2 for the game.
Second line center Han Soo-jin had a tough game. In addition to hitting the crossbar, Han lost 12 of 17 face-offs and was a team-worst minus-7.