▲ This year’s crop of stars in the Winter Classic Photo courtesy of Leonard Castro
The third annual Winter Classic, held by the Jeju Islanders Hockey Club on Sunday Dec. 11, was a massive success.
The Jungmun Jets came out champions following a run to the final which saw them lose only once, displaying an overall dominance throughout the competition.
The Classic began with defending champions - the Gwakji Kings - versus the Hamdeok Blackhawks. The Kings fell short by a score of 4-1, but bounced back in their second game to defeat the Iho Hurricanes 1-0.
The Jets scored a combined eight goals in their two games, making an early case to be crowned champions, highlighted by a 5-1 victory over the Pyoseon Penguins.
The knockout rounds saw amazing end-to-end action, as two teams in particular - the Kings and the Hurricanes - vied for a spot in the final against the Jets.
The Kings were able to avenge their opening loss to the Blackhawks, running away with a 6-1 blowout, courtesy of a four goal masterclass from Sean “The Tarp” Pratt.
The Hurricanes upset The Jets in the first semi-final, defeating them by a single goal thanks to the outrageous skills of goaltender Chris Corby, who stood on his head much of the day between the pipes, also starring in the shootout.
However, in the end, the Jets were just too powerful, overcoming the Hurricanes 3-1 in the final, led by Mike Poirier, Skofe A. Lofe, and Allan Moore.
This latest installment of the Winter Classic was definitely one to remember and there are sure to be many more to come. Ball hockey is a sport that has gained a very real following here on Jeju over the past few years.
The Jeju Islanders Hockey Club came into existence in 2013 thanks to the initiative of founder Dave Cunning.
“A small group of hockey-minded guys and girls were able to find each other, a handful of sticks, and a rink to play at,” said Cunning, remembering the early days.
▲ Dave Cunning, pictured in the black jersey, winning the 2014 Winter Classic with the Gwakji Kings Photo courtesy of Yoki S. Jeong
“There were plenty of other sports being played on the island at that point, but not hockey. It was a fresh option for everyone, and excitement and enthusiasm grew quickly. We went from having to share five sticks between six people, to receiving major equipment donations from Warrior Hockey and CBHK in Seoul,” Cunning explained.
He is also very optimistic about the direction in which the team is headed for the future.
“I'm very proud of what I started. I'm equally proud of what Allan Moore and the rest of the team's leadership group has done to not only maintain that legacy, but to take it to even greater heights since I left in 2015. I'm excited to see what we're able to do in the years to come.”
The Islanders club is composed of more than 400 players, past and present, all of whom have a special connection to the tradition. The club’s players come from many different parts of the world.
One is Moscow born Artem Stebaev, known to his teammates as The Russian Rocket.
“I met the Islanders after half a year living on Jeju. Actually, it was a blessing. I didn’t know many people at the time and I used to play ice hockey when I was a teen. It was a real surprise to find so many people playing on the island,” he began.
“It was love at first sight,” Artem continued, “This community unites people. There are people here to show you how to play the game and motivate you to improve. It doesn't matter if you play as a pro or as a beginner. It’s also nice to meet so many Koreans. Without a doubt this group has been one of the best experiences I've ever had,” he finished.
▲ “The Russian Rocket” in action at the Summer Classic this year Photo courtesy of Eric Hevesy
On top of giving people a chance to play, the Jeju Islanders Hockey Club has also been active in the community - supporting charity initiatives, and donating money to orphanages and other organizations, according to Moore, who oversees team operations.
“Both the players and the sponsors have worked together to support a variety of good causes,” Jason Motz, a long-time Islander said.
This year’s Winter Classic was made possible through the generous donations of many different members of the Jeju community, including the people at Queen of Jeju Consulting, Le Coin, The Juice Lab, Hyatt Regency Jeju, Eric Hevesy Photography, Baghdad Café, and The Bar - just to name a few.
A big thank you from the Islanders also goes out to Alexis Oesterle, who was instrumental in lining up sponsorships for this year’s Winter Classic. Alexis is a big part of the Jeju expat community, and has gone far beyond the call on countless occasions to make not only hockey, but the expat community what it is on the island.
Jeju hockey has certainly grown through the years thanks to the many great people who have been, and continue to be, involved with the organization. Remember to come out and showcase your skills or just have some fun.
Games are every Saturday night at the rink in Jeju Stadium starting around 5:30 p.m. It’s great fun, with plenty of opportunities to meet some great people, and get into shape.
▲ One of many examples of the charitable efforts by the Islanders Photo courtesy of Dave Cunning
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