After months of speculation and deliberation over whether the host nation of the 2018 Olympics, Korea, would be granted automatic berths in the games for ice hockey, the IIHF today announced at their IIHF Congress meeting that both the Korean men’s and women’s teams would gain berths to the Games. As reported by the IIHF, the decision was made to increase investment to Korea’s hockey program in the three-plus years leading up to the games to ensure that the Koreans field competitive teams in 2018.
There was much discussion as the IIHF had changed the policy of automatic berths for the host nation after the 2006 Turin Games – however, with the 2010 Games in Canada and 2014 Games in Russia, there was never a concern of the host countries being unable to qualify. However, after much lobbying from the Korean Ice Hockey Association, who recently installed former NHLer Jim Paek as the new head coach of the men’s squad, the rule was reinstated to ensure that the hosts would compete.
Whether the format will remain the same as the last two Olympics, and if Korea will face off against the world’s top teams (versus playing in a qualification round) still remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to watch what Korea can bring to the table come 2018 – particularly if their teams get the chance to compete for the International Hockey Lineal Championship for the first time ever.