Un­usual ca­reer path

For nat­u­ral­ized Dal­ton, the puck stops in South Korea

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY JIM ARM­STRONG

Grow­ing up in ru­ral south­ern On­tario, Matt Dal­ton never fig­ured that his ca­reer path in pro­fes­sional hockey would take him to South Korea.

Dal­ton, along with a hand­ful of other North Amer­i­can play­ers, has ac­quired South Korean cit­i­zen­ship and is a key mem­ber of the men’s na­tional ice hockey team as it pre­pares to take on the world’s best as host of the 2018 Win­ter Olympics.

“The pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting cit­i­zen­ship in­trigued me,” said the 30-year-old goal­tender who is in Sap­poro rep­re­sent­ing South Korea at the Asian Win­ter Games.

“Also, the job sta­bil­ity,” added Dal­ton, who played briefly in the Bos­ton Bru­ins or­ga­ni­za­tion. “When you are play­ing over­seas it’s kinda one year at a time. You can get bounced around pretty quick.”

Dal­ton was play­ing in Rus­sia in the KHL be­fore get­ting

in­vited to play for South Korean team Anyang Halla in the Asia Ice Hockey League. The pay­cheque took him to South Korea. The lure of the Olympics is keep­ing him there.

The South Korean team has never qual­i­fied for the Olympics

and is hop­ing to avoid an em­bar­rass­ing drub­bing on in­ter­na­tional ice hockey’s big­gest stage.

The Korean Olympic Com­mit­tee asked the jus­tice min­istry to fast-track the nat­u­ral­iza­tion of the im­port play­ers and they were ap­proved in ac­cor­dance with a re­vised im­mi­gra­tion law that al­lows qual­i­fied for­eign na­tion­als to hold mul­ti­ple cit­i­zen­ships.

Dal­ton said be­ing able to main­tain his Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship made the de­ci­sion a lot eas­ier.

In the 12-na­tion men’s tour­na­ment in Pyeongchang, South Korea has been placed in Group A with top-ranked Canada, the Czech Repub­lic and Switzer­land, ranked sixth and sev­enth re­spec­tively.

With or with­out NHL play­ers — the league is still un­de­cided on whether it will take part — that’s a tough group for the hosts.

“Hockey-wise, we are in pretty deep with the com­pe­ti­tion,” Dal­ton said. “There are big chal­lenges no doubt. But we are work­ing hard and try­ing to get bet­ter so, hope­fully, we can have a good show­ing for South Korea.”

Former NHL de­fence­man Jim Paek was hired to coach the team.

Paek, the first Korean-born hockey player to play in the NHL, won two Stan­ley Cups with the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins in 1991 and 1992.

His team, 23rd in the In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion’s rank­ings, lost their open­ing game of the Asian Win­ter Games 4-0 on Wed­nes­day to Kaza­khstan, which is No. 16 in the world rank­ings.

“They are a good team,” Paek said of the Kaza­khs. “We had some good chances but we couldn’t cap­i­tal­ize.”

Paek said get­ting in games against high-level com­pe­ti­tion is one of the tough­est things about pre­par­ing his Olympic squad.

“The lack of game ex­pe­ri­ence at a high-level is our big­gest chal­lenge,” Paek said. “In or­der for us to com­pete with top na­tion teams we need to play them. Hockey is a small world where they have their small group of friends and it’s tough to get in and play any games. So we have to do the best we can and move for­ward.”

AP PHOTO

South Korea’s goal­keeper Matt Dal­ton watches team­mates play in their ice hockey men’s top divi­sion match against Kaza­khstan at the Asian Win­ter Games in Sap­poro, north­ern Ja­pan on Feb. 22.

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