The face of Korean hockey is a heart­bro­ken Canadian

For­mer NHL draft pick was hop­ing to rep­re­sent South Korea against NHLers


Brock Radunske had it all worked out in his mind. His per­fect per­sonal way of say­ing good­bye to hockey.

He would line up for the open­ing face­off against Team Canada, play­ing for his adopted coun­try, South Korea, stand­ing face to face and stick to stick op­po­site Sid­ney Crosby.

That was the plan. And there was noth­ing more to ac­com­plish af­ter that.

“What could be bet­ter?” asked Radunske, the for­mer Ed­mon­ton draft pick. “That was my shot. I thought about that a lot, be­lieve me.”

And then, for the sec­ond time in his life, the NHL broke his heart.

“We wanted to see the best play­ers here,” said Radunske. “That’s the truth. I never got to play in the NHL. I got drafted. I went to some camps. I played in some ex­hi­bi­tion games. The other night, we played against the ath­letes from Rus­sia. They have leg­ends like (Pavel) Dat­syuk and (Ilya) Ko­valchuk on that team, and it was very mem­o­rable to play against them. But I’m Canadian.”

He wanted to line up against Crosby. Or Con­nor McDavid. Or some other hockey leg­end.

And now the face­off for the 34-year-old from New Ham­burg, Ont., may come against Derek Roy, whom he played against in mi­nor hockey, or maybe against Chris Kelly or Lin­den Vey. Hockey dreams are taking on an en­tirely dif­fer­ent spec­tre in these un­usual Olympic Games.

“It’s still great,” said Radunske, “it’s just not the same.”

Not the same for a player who came to South Korea 10 years ago with the hopes of stay­ing a year or two and maybe mov­ing on to a bet­ter league some­where in Europe, not know­ing any­thing about up­com­ing Olympics. He had kicked around as an Oil­ers farm­hand long enough to know he had to play some­where else. He went to Ger­many for a year, had of­fers for some sec­ond divi­sion teams. Then the of­fer from South Korea came in and not only is he still here, but he’s of­fi­cially a ci­ti­zen and the face and leader of the na­tional team.

And all the while, so far from home, car­ry­ing around the emo­tional dif­fi­culty of a fam­ily di­vided by cir­cum­stance. In his draft year, his mother, a hockey nut, was hit by a car while jog­ging. She sur­vived the ac­ci­dent, her per­son­al­ity did not. She lost a lot of her mem­ory, al­most all of her warmth and the pas­sion she had for watch­ing her son play hockey. She didn’t re­ally know who her fam­ily was any­more and didn’t emo­tion­ally have the where­withal to be in in­volved with any­one.

The mar­riage to Radunske’s fa­ther broke up. The fam­ily tried its best to deal with a mother they hardly knew and who didn’t want any­thing to do with them. For years, there was al­most no con­nec­tion be­tween Con­nie Radunske, for­mer avid hockey mom, and her kids.

Radunske would see his mother maybe once a year, once each sum­mer, while stay­ing close to his fa­ther. But the sea­son be­fore this one, Radunske went to North Amer­ica for hip surgery and spent a lot of his re­hab time in Western On­tario for­tu­nate enough to spend sig­nif­i­cant time with his fa­ther, who even­tu­ally suc­cumbed to cancer, pass­ing away last spring. Be­ing there was im­por­tant to Radunske.

Then some­thing mirac­u­lous hap­pened. Al­most 16 years af­ter the jog­ging ac­ci­dent, Con­nie Radunske’s per­son­al­ity be­gan chang­ing. She started re­mem­ber­ing things. She start­ing send­ing birthday cards to her grand­chil­dren. She started to be her­self again. And Radunske’s brother had a rather bold idea: The Korean na­tional team was play­ing in a tour­na­ment in Aus­tria. Why not bring his mom back to the arena to see her son Brock play again?

The trip was ex­haust­ing and in­spir­ing for those in­volved. In a way it was like turn­ing back the clock, as much as you can con­sid­er­ing all the fam­ily had been through.

“It’s not the same, but it was in­cred­i­ble,” said Radunske, see­ing his mom at a hockey game once again. See­ing her son play­ing a promi­nent role for the South Korean na­tional team. It’s not the way it was, it can never be that again.

“But she can fol­low along with the game,” he said. “She can’t fol­low that closely but she’s try­ing. She’s in that proud par­ent role again, just cheer­ing me on.”

Con­nie Radunske isn’t well enough to make the long trip to Pyeongchang for these Games. In­stead, oth­ers will be here to sup­port Radunske: His brother and girl­friend; his wife and wife’s par­ents. A few fam­ily friends. Even his orig­i­nal agent is mak­ing the trip be­cause in Brad Robins’ words, “If Brock’s play­ing in the Olympics, I have to be there.”

This is 10 years now in South Korea for Radunske and on the last Amer­i­can Hockey League team he played on, the Red Wings farm team in Grand Rapids, the as­sis­tant coach there was for­mer Pitts­burgh de­fence­man Jim Paek.

All these years later, Paek is head coach for Korea and Radunske is the player of most promi­nence in the coun­try.

“He’s been here the long­est,” said Paek. “He was here for the start of Korean hockey, re­ally. He grew up with all these play­ers. He’s the cagey vet­eran leader. Ev­ery­body has their story but his jour­ney is a great story. It’s emo­tional for sure.

“You think about all he’s been through, and what stands out is his per­se­ver­ance, his jour­ney. That’s what makes him so spe­cial.”

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