Century for Kisung Kim
by Andy Potts|03 MAY 2023
Korean forward Kisung Kim receives a commemorative jersey to mark his 100th competitive international game during the 2023 World Championship Division IA tournament in Nottingham, Great Britain.
photo: Karl Denham
Kisung Kim’s hockey journey is not your usual tale. The 37-year-old made his 100th competitive appearance for Korea during the 2023 World Championship Division IA tournament, reaching a landmark in a career that ranges from Division II obscurity to the heights of playing at the Olympics.

“Korean hockey has changed a lot,” he said after playing that 100th game this week. “We’ve been to the highest level.”

When Kisung made his World Championship debut, back in 2005, the top level was a long way off. The team travelled to Zagreb that year looking to bounce back after relegation from Division I the previous season. Kim got off to a flying start: in his first four minutes as a senior international he had a goal and an assist, setting the Koreans on the way to a 14-0 victory over Turkey. That was the first of three shut-out wins, but losses to Australia and Croatia ended the promotion dream. The prospect of playing at the Olympics or the top level of World Championship play seemed wildly improbable.

Yet Korea got there. And if the Olympic team qualified as host nation, the rise to the top division of the World Championship was achieved entirely on the ice. Kising and his colleagues pulled off a shock in the Division IA tournament in 2017, beating Kazakhstan for the first time ever – Kim had a goal and an assist in that game – before holding their nerve to clinch a shoot-out win over Ukraine and grab second place.

Without the depth and infrastructure of the established elite, Korea was always going to struggle at the top table. In the end, the team could not win a game in 2018. For an emerging nation, though, success is measured differently. Finding the net against top-flight opposition, off an assist from younger brother Sang Wook, is just one indelible memory from a unique year in Korean hockey history.

“Playing at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang was just the best experience,” Kisung added, smiling at the recollection of being a part of the World’s biggest sporting event in his own country. “And then that year we played in the World Championship in Denmark and that was another huge experience for us all.”

His 100th game was a 5-2 victory over Romania. That result could go a long way to securing Korea’s Division IA status. After losing two years of domestic hockey due to the pandemic, surviving a difficult group in Nottingham would mean a lot.

In particular, it would enhance the prospects the next generation of Korean hockey talent. Players like Sihwan Kim, a first-year student at Kisung's alma mater, Yonsei University, represent the first fruits from the players inspired by Korea’s Olympic journey and aided by the imports who bolstered the roster in the build-up to PyeongChang. Sihwan scored his first goal for the men’s national team against Romania.

Kim believes the future is in good hands. 

“We have good younger players coming through,” he said. “Now it’s a little bit of a mix with a core group of veterans and some new talent joining us.

“So we are continuing to grow and I think we can get better.”

And that confidence is shared by team captain Don Ku Lee. Kisung's Anyang Halla team-mate is another veteran of 2018 and he’s excited by the young talent coming into the Korean camp. He describes Sihwan as a player with good skills and hockey IQ, who needs to bulk up a little to fully establish himself in the men’s game. In his blog before the team travelled to Britain, Lee noted a change in attitude among the current crop of national team hopefuls.

“The style of play from the young players was a bit of a surprise for me,” he wrote. “When I was the youngest, I was a little bit intimidated ... [but] this year’s prospects were not overawed by playing alongside senior players. None of us could take our place for granted at camp, everybody was energized and it pushed up the overall level of the team.”

While that overall level may not yet be able to match the feats of the 2017 promotion winners, it looks good enough to compete at Division IA for the foreseeable future.