2 minutes for high fun in this amateur hockey league

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2 minutes for high fun in this amateur hockey league

When one thinks of ice hockey, Wayne Gretzky and bone-crushing body checks come to mind. In Korea, the sport is still considered to be an expensive and exotic one. But for members of the Jim Paek Hockey League, getting on the ice is worth the cost. It's a sport that gives them a thrill, not to mention a chance to work up a good sweat.

At 10 p.m. at the Yahap-dong ice rink in Bundang, Gyeonggi province, about 30 ice hockey players have gathered for their weekly Tuesday practice, getting ready for their game on Friday. The Jackals (in white) and the Bulldogs (in yellow) practice skating, passing and shooting. They are all amateurs, but a few are notably fast and furious with the puck. Players push each other around and get knocked to the ice, and the coach shouts instructions. It's intense, although not as bloodthirsty as the action during the NHL playoffs.

"It's riveting, even if it can be physically tiring at times," said Yoon Jong-ho, 28, who joined the Bulldogs and the league two months ago. At around 11:20 p.m., they play a practice game (five-on-five) where the boys (and one girl) get down to some serious skating.

The Jim Paek Hockey League is an amateur ice hockey association that began in early June and has already grown to 70 members. It was named after a Korean who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League and who is a friend of Yang Seung-jun, the CEO of the Jim Paek Hockey Shop and founder of the club. Mr. Yang is a former player for the Halla Winia hockey team.

"The major difference between the many online ice hockey clubs in Korea and ours is that we are very systematic. We are the only club that operates a league, with four teams and growing, and keeps meticulous records of the teams as well as individual players," said Mr. Yang

Most of the members are in their 20s and 30s, and come from a wide range of professions, including information technology engineers and dentists. However, most of the Jackals team is made up of young entrepreneurs who work at online-game and software companies.

Tommy Park, 32, said he looked forward to going out on the ice for the thrill of making contact -- figuratively and literally -- with fellow ice hockey fans. In fact, Tommy is arguably the most aggressive player on the rink.

"I first played ice hockey at age 11 when I was living in Vancouver, Canada, and loved it so much I intend to continue doing so," says Mr. Park

The only woman in the rink was Um Mina, a public relations manager at Vivendi Universal Games, who said, "At first it was terrifying as well as embarrassing because I was so bad at it. But now, I am like, 'whatever' and play my heart out." For a female player, there is no special treatment from the bigger guys, and there are now about five women in the league.

Membership costs 50,000 won ($40) per year, and a complete set of equipment about 700,000 won at the Jim Paek Hockey Shop in Yangjae-dong. For more information, see www.jphl.com.

by Choi Jie-ho

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