Road To The Olympic Games

Hockey

There's plenty of CanCon on South Korea's men's hockey team

When the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team clashes with South Korea on Feb. 18 in Pyeongchang, you'll notice some very un-Korean names on the host side.

6 players born and raised in Canada will play for Olympic host

Coach Jim Paek, who was born in Seoul but moved to Canada at a young age, is just one of the members of the South Korean men's hockey team who has a strong Canadian connection. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

When the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team clashes with South Korea on Sunday at 7:10 a.m. ET, you will notice some very un-Korean names on the host side.

Names like Matt Dalton, Alex Plante, Eric Regan, Bryan Young, Brock Radunske, Michael Swift and Mike Testwuide. The latter is an American from Vail, Colo., and was briefly in the Calgary Flames system. The other six were born and raised in Canada.

South Korea head coach Jim Paek, who was born in Seoul but moved to Canada when he was one and went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and '92, has followed a game plan used by other hockey-weak nations for the Olympics: go fishing for players in Canada's deep talent pool.

When Great Britain won the 1936 men's hockey gold medal, nine of the 13 players were born in Great Britain but raised in Canada. Host Italy had nine Canadians on its roster at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.

Hockey is making gains in South Korea, but it's still in the early stages. That's why Paek persuaded those half-dozen Canadians to get their South Korean passports. They all play in the eight-team Asia League Ice Hockey.

The 28-year-old Plante was the Edmonton Oilers' first-round selection (15th overall) in 2007 but saw action in only 10 NHL games over three seasons. The son of former Toronto Maple Leafs farmhand Cam Plante then headed to Germany and Norway and now is in his third year in Asia.

The 31-year-old Young is in his eighth season in Asia. He also was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2004 in the fifth round and won an OHL championship with the 2005-06 Peterborough Petes. A defenceman from Ennismore, Ont., he played 17 games with the Oilers over parts of two seasons a decade ago.

Young and Swift, a 30-year-old forward, are cousins who became naturalized citizens of South Korea together in a ceremony four years ago. They celebrated by wearing traditional Korean attire and sitting down to a traditional Korean dinner.

Swift went undrafted, but after winning the 2007-08 Leo Lalonde Trophy as the OHL's over-ager of the year with the Niagara IceDogs, the New Jersey Devils signed him as a free agent. But he eventually made his way to Asia and he has won the scoring title in five of his seven seasons.

Front and centre

Regan, a 29-year-old defenceman, also went undrafted. The Whitby, Ont., native played junior for the hometown Oshawa Generals, but the Anaheim Ducks liked him and signed him as a free agent to a three-year entry-level deal. But after those three seasons in the minors, he was off to Europe and then Asia.

Radunske, 34, was a third-round selection of the Oilers in 2002. He has been in Asia for a decade and in 2013 became the first foreigner to join the South Korean national team without any Korean ancestry. After three years at Michigan State, the New Hamburg, Ont. native bounced back and forth between the AHL and ECHL.

The South Korean/Canadian player who will be the busiest in the Olympic tournament will no doubt be Matt Dalton. The 31-year-old goalie from Clinton, Ont., is in his fourth season in Asia. In his sophomore year at Bemidji State University, his play pushed the small school all the way to the Frozen Four semifinals.

The Boston Bruins signed him as a result. He was called up twice by the Bruins, but never saw any NHL action. The first time was to fill in at practice for Tim Thomas, who was with the United States Olympic team at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. The second time was for an injured Tuukka Rask to backup Thomas a week later.

Dalton won't have to worry about sitting on the bench in Pyeongchang. He'll be front and centre among the Canadian content performing for South Korea.

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