In an international hockey world that seldom sees new nations emerge to contend for the International Hockey Lineal Championship, Slovakia’s IHLC win over Latvia today confirmed their next opponent will be South Korea (Korea Republic), making the Koreans the first new team in 15 years to contend for the IHLC.
Korea will become the first new contender since Slovenia, who played for their first IHLC at the 2003 World Championships, losing 12-0 to hosts Finland on 28 April; they have since had six more attempts at the title to no avail, their latest attempt being at last year’s Worlds. Korea’s game against Slovakia will be in Piešťany this Wednesday, 25 April, putting the game three days shy of being exactly a decade and a half apart from Slovenia’s try. Korea will also become just the third Asian nation to contend directly for the IHLC, with Japan first playing for the IHLC in 1957 and Kazahkstan in 1997, with both nations winning their first title in 1997.
This marks another major achievement for Korean hockey in the past year, after Korea both contended at the PyeongChang Olympics as the host nation and qualified for their first World Championships next month in Denmark. While Korea finished last at the Olympics and is expected to be relegated at the World Championships, they did hold their own against the world’s best squads in February, and could act as spoiler when they take to the ice in Herning. This is the first time in three tries that the stars have aligned for Korea to play for the IHLC, as Czechia won the title prior to Korea facing Finland at December’s Channel One Cup, and then Finland upended the Czechs just prior to the Olympics, where Czechia was scheduled to open the Games against Korea.
While this historic meeting in Slovakia will be the first such IHLC meeting for Korea, the trajectory that the team is on almost certainly means that this will not be their last!