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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Korean Sub-Zero Ice Hockey, Part I: Anyang Halla - One of the Surviving Club in defunct Korean Ice Hockey League

Anyang Halla (Hangul/Hanja: 안양 한라/安養漢拏) is a professional ice hockey team based in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea. It is one of the founding and current members of the Asia League Ice Hockey (AL). Formed in 1994, it is the oldest professional ice hockey team, and one of only three professional teams, in South Korea. The Halla Group contributes three billion won annually to run the club.

At its inception the team was based out of Mokdong, Seoul Yangcheon-gu and named the Mando Winia. In 1998 the team took the name of Mando's parent company, Halla. After the collapse of the Korean Ice Hockey League in 2003 they were the only team to survive. They joined four Japanese teams to create the new Asia League Ice Hockey. In 2005 the team relocated and took the name of their new hometown as their own, playing all current home games out of the Anyang Sports Complex Arena in Anyang Dongan-gu (Specific Location: Anyang Ice Rink, 389 Pyeongchon Boulevard/Pyeongchon-daero, Bisan 3-dong 1025-2 beonji). After two years of finishing in 5th place, they became the first non-Japanese team to finish first in the regular season in 2008–09. However, they failed to defeat the Nippon Paper Cranes in the semi-finals. In the following season Halla again finished in first and managed to win the semi-final and final series giving them their first play-off series win and first Asia League Championship. The club captured their second AL title after the league cancelled the championship final due to the earthquake in Japan. Asia League announced Halla and Tohoku Free Blades as the co-champs.

The team was originally founded in 1994 by the Halla Group to help promote hockey in Korea. The Halla Group also felt that by creating an ice hockey team, it would help them to fulfill their role as a responsible corporation by providing something to the community. The team was originally named "Mando Winia". It was so named because Mando is a subsidiary company of Halla and Winia is a brand of air conditioner sold by the company. In 1997 the team was disbanded for a short time during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. However, the chairman of Halla Group, Chung Mong-won, fought to keep the team.

As a member of the Korean Ice Hockey League the team won the championship five times. During this time, the team also changed their name from "Mando Winia" to "Halla Winia". The team first looked at adding foreign players to their roster in late 2001 with other members of the Korean League. In 2003, the team was one of the founding members of Asia League Ice Hockey.

While the team participates primarily in the Asia League, they also play in tournaments like the All Korea Ice Hockey Championship each year. In the inaugural year of Asia League Ice Hockey, Halla played a shortened seasons of only 16 games, and failed to break .500. In the following year they brought Esa Tikkanen, a veteran player of 20 NHL seasons, on board. He was brought on primarily to coach the players but he also played during the team's games. Tikkanen felt that as the players played against more skilled teams their own skill level showed greater improvement. He also felt that they should play more games and that the season was too short. That year the team was also noted for showing great improvement over the first year's effort. Halla finished the season winning 18 games out of 42 with 5 ties. Their top offensive player, Marco Poulsen, finished 5th in the overall points race, however they didn't reach their goal that year of making the playoffs, finishing in 5th place one spot out of the playoffs. In the off-season the team changed their name from Anyang Halla Winia to Anyang Halla with the expiration of the sponsorship contract. As well they hired Otakar Vejvoda to be the team's new coach. Vejvoda was considered a legend in the Czech Extraliga both for his skill as a player and a coach.

In the 2005–06 season Halla improved on the previous year's performance finishing in second place. The league saw a reduced season of only 38 games. Song Dong-hwan was the leader in goals for the league with 31 and Patrik Martinec ranked 2nd in assists with 44. Martinec ranked number 2 on the total points list while Song finished in fourth place. Halla also scored the most short-handed goals of any team in the league with 11.The city of Anyang won an award for being "The best Hockey Town in Asia". The team made the play-offs for the first time since the league's formation. They received a bye in the first round and played Kokudo, the winner of the 3rd place and 6th place match-up. Anyang managed to win only a single game out of the first three which were played on home ice. They were eliminated in the 4th game which was played in Kokudo's home rink by a score of 5–1. Kokudo went on to be the league champions for the second year in a row.

After the conclusion of the 2005–06 season there were some roster changes. Two of the team's top players, Song Dong-hwan and Jang Jong-moon, had to report for compulsory military service. Starting goaltender, Kim Sung-Bae, retired after the previous season. Even though they were missing these players they were noted for having more players with more than 10 goals and 10 assists than in the previous season. With the departure of Song offensive output dropped slightly, the team's top offensive player finished 7th overall in goals with 21. However Martinec won the assists race with 53 and the overall points total with 71. The team shared top spot in the short-handed goals with 2 other teams, scoring 10 over the course of the season. With a further shortened season of only 34 games the team finished in 5th place and faced the other Korean team, Kangwon Land in the quarter finals. During the regular season Kangwon won 6 of 7 meetings, and the quarter finals were no different. Kangwon swept Halla in 3 games, the final game ending in 3–2 with a last minute desperate bid by Halla to tie the game.

The next season saw the AL further reduce the amount of games played to just 30. In the pre-season Halla won the Anyang Cup, which is a pre-season tournament held in Anyang. The team's record in the regular season remained relatively the same and they finished again in 5th place. Lee Yu-Won was the top offensive player with 16 goals and was tied for 4th place with 3 other players. Martinec continued to contribute many assists to the team and finished in second place with 29, one point off first. He finished in 4th place in the overall point totals. Halla did not have another player in the top 10. The team once again led the league in short-handed goals and gave up the fewest short-handed goals against along with the Oji Eagles. In the playoffs the Halla faced the Nippon Paper Cranes in the first round. During the regular season the two teams split their series, each winning 2 games. The playoffs told a different story, and Nippon swept Halla in 3 games. Halla lost each game by a single goal. Vejvoda praised Nippon's goalie for his excellent play and commended his players for their effort.

Following the defeat in the post-season Halla replaced Vejvoda as head coach with Shim Eui-Sik. Shim had spent his entire professional career playing for Halla and during the 2007–2008 season he was the coach of Little Halla. As a player Shim had 30 points in 80 games. He vowed to reorganize the team and set his sights on a league championship. The team's general manager also hired Samuel H. Kim, then an analyst for SBS Sports and previously an NHL reporter from Vancouver, as a scout for the organization. Halla moved away from the heavy Czech influence which had previously dominated the team and filled 3 of the 4 spots for foreign players on the team with players from North America. Brock Radunske, Brad Fast and Jon Awe became the first three players from North America to play for the team. They also arranged for Eric Thurston, the head coach of University of Alberta's team, to spend the first 3 weeks of the training camp assisting the new coach and new North American players. Martinec was the only Czech player to remain on the team. In addition to the new foreigner players, Song Dong-hwan and Jang Jong-moon returned from military service. In the 2008 pre-season Anyang Cup, Halla finished 4th out of 5 teams. The AL increased the number of regular season games for the 2008–09 season to 36. In September head coach Shim was suspended for 5 games for refusal to play. The incident stemmed from a goal that was scored as the final buzzer sounded during a 21 September game against High1. Halla entered the dressing room and refused to return to the ice. The league considered the game a forfeit. Anyang Halla finished the season in first place with a total of 76 points. Their defeat of their rivals High1 in the final game of the season marks the first time a non-Japanese team had finished first place in the Asia League. Brock Radunske captured the titles for both the most goals scored with 29 and most points on the season with 57. Martinec finished in second place for the second year in a row in the assists category with 47. Overall the team finished with 5 players in the top 10 in the overall points tally. For the first time the team ended the season with the number one powerplay scoring 54 goals. In contrast to earlier seasons the team did not lead the league in short-handed goals, ranking in the middle of the pack both in goals for and against. They were the only team not shutout during the regular season. After receiving a bye in the first round of the play-offs Halla had to face the Nippon Paper Cranes in the semi-final. They returned to Anyang for game 6 of the series leading 3–2. They were expected to win the series but Nippon's Ilmura scored two game-winning goals and the Japanese club defeated Anyang in 7 games.

Halla opened the 2009–10 season with a loss on home ice, but at the midpoint of the season they were tied for first place with the Oji Eagles. The league maintained the number of games at 36. The first half of the season saw Halla plagued with injuries. Particularly hard hit were the team's foreign imports. After the third game of the season Jon Awe was diagnosed with a sports hernia that required surgery and was scheduled to miss 8–12 weeks. On 29 November, Brad Fast received a knee injury that would sideline him for 4–6 months, ending his season. Brock Radunske was also on the injury list with a concussion, while Patrik Martinec was day to day with a lower-body injury. Halla replaced Awe quickly with Dustin Wood, who has played in both the American Hockey League and Deutsche Eishockey Liga. Fast was replaced by Lee Don-ku from Yonsei University. Halla also had several other regular players injured including Kim Won-jun, Kim Kyu-hun, and Lee Seung-yup. After 18 games Halla led the league with 94 goals. On 31 January 2010, Halla defeated the Oji Eagles in overtime by a score of 4–3, clinching first place for the second year in a row. The win also set up a semi-final match-up against Korean rivals High1, guaranteeing that a Korean team would appear in the final for the first time in league history. Halla won all of their series against opposing teams, except against their rival High1. Of 18 possible points available in their six-game series, Halla took only eight. They were the only team to win a series against the Nippon Paper Cranes. The team led the league in goals scored with 180. Individually, Kim Ki-sung led the team in goals scored with 22, while Patrik Martinec again led with 40 assists and 51 points. Halla finished with five players in the top ten point list. The team also led in both powerplay goals for, with 57, powerplay percentage, with 34.97%, and shorthanded goals for, with 10. In the annual end of season awards, Patrik Martinec took the award for Most Valuable Player and Best Playmaking. Cho Min-ho took the award for Young Guy of the Year. Anyang city won the award for Best Hockey Town for the second time for their spirit and sell-out crowds. Anyang Halla defeated High1 by a score of 5–2 to win the semi-finals three games to one, winning their first play-off series and becoming the first Korean team to play for the Championship Cup. Halla faced the Cranes, who had knocked them out of the playoffs twice, in the final. The series went to the full five games and four of the games went to overtime. Brock Radunske scored two overtime winners and assisted Kim Woo-Jae in scoring the overtime winner in game five, making Halla the first non-Japanese team to win the Asia League Championship. Radunske was named MVP while head coach Shim was named "Coach of the Year". After retiring as a player, Martinec signed a 1-year deal to work as an assistant coach on the team.

Like the previous season, Halla lost the opening game against High1. However, they once again found themselves on top at the midpoint of the season. The team was second in the league in goals scored with 65. Halla retained Dustin Wood who was brought in as a replacement in the previous season. On 14 November 2010 the team defended their Korea Domestic Championship title against High1 by defeating them 5–1 in the final game of the week-long tournament. After finishing first two consecutive years, Halla finished in fourth place one point behind the Free Blades. They won their season series against all teams except the Cranes and Eagles. They also finished fifth in goals scored with 130, one behind High1, but allowed the second fewest goals with 94, three behind the Eagles. While the team's penalty kill was ranked fifth in the league, they were tied for the most short-handed goals with the Cranes with six goals. Their powerplay was ranked third, and they gave up the second fewest short-handed goals. Brock Radunske led the team with 20 goals and finished fourth in the league. Cho Min-ho also made the top ten ranking and finished in eight place with 18 goals. Kim Ki-sung was the only Halla player to make the top ten in assists and finished in tenth place with 27. Overall Cho Min-ho led the team with 44 points and finished ninth in the league. Dustin Wood led the team in penalty minutes with 45. With their fourth-place finish, Halla had to face the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs. The series began in Japan, but Halla took two of three games and upon returning to South Korea they won the fourth game of the best-of-five series and knocked the Eagles out. The Free Blades defeated the Cranes and Halla were set to face them on 12 March 2011 in Sendai, Japan. However, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Sendai area about one hour after the team landed there to prepare for the games. The League immediately cancelled the three games scheduled in Sendai and on 22 March 2011 they officially cancelled the final series, award co-championship titles to both Anyang Halla and Tohoku Free Blades. This decision made Halla only the second team to capture back-to-back championships since the league's inception.

As a team and organization the Halla have engaged in charitable work. In 2008 they had two charity games on 27 and 28 December. The admission fee was waved and instead fans were asked to make donations. The proceeds were donated to the poor children of Anyang city as well as the sick children's hospital. On 19 December 2009 The Anyang Halla organization donated 20,000 won for each goal that had been scored in the season to charity, totaling just over 2 million won. On 25 and 26 December 2010 Halla repeated their charity game series, and offered free admission to the game in exchange for donations to the sick children's hospitals in Gyeonggi Province. After the cancellation of the final series, the team held a charity game on 22 March 2011 to raise money for the Japanese earthquake victims. Instead of raising a trophy to celebrate their championship, the team took a final photo holding signs of sympathy and encouragement for Japan. The team raised almost 20 million won in donations for Japan. The team maintains a yearly tradition of giving free admission to students who take the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) to promote rest and comfort after the difficult exam.