Halla hoping to end curse in Asia League

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Halla hoping to end curse in Asia League

The Asia League Ice Hockey season kicks off tomorrow with seven teams from three East Asian nations vying for the title.

Korea will be represented by two teams - Anyang Halla and High1 - while China has one, China Dragon. Japan will enter the Nikko Icebucks, Nippon Paper Cranes, Oji Eagles and Tohoku Free Blades.

Korean fans will be keen to see if Anyang, the two-time defending champion, can secure its third title and if High1 can make amends for its dreadful display last year.

Halla has lost several key players during the offseason, including Song Dong-hwan, the all-time points leader in Korean hockey who left the club to play for the Ice Bucks.

But it has brought in former Anaheim Ducks defenseman Ric Jackman, 33, on a three-year deal.

“We are a different team now, and we may not be any better than we were the last two seasons.” said Halla’s general manager, Yang Seung-jun.

“We just have to play a different style. We lost some good players in the off-season, but we still think we can get the job done with our crop of core players.”

The team faces a tough challenge from the get-go as it meets local rival High1 tomorrow afternoon in Anyang, Gyeonggi.

Korean teams have since 2008 begun the season by squaring off against one another on a home-and-away basis.

Halla has not beaten High1 in a season opener since 2005. In fact, since the league was launched in 2003, Halla has only won one of eight such encounters.

“It’s something we can’t explain. There is no real reason why we always lose to them on opening night, but I guess it boils down to [bad] luck,” said Samuel Kim, the club’s scout. “It’s time for us to end the jinx.”

High1 set the franchise’s third-worst record last year when it missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-2006 season after amassing a dismal 51 points.

But the team is ready to bounce back with new signings Michael Swift and Oren Eizenman in attack.

“Hopefully, with our new imports, we can pick up more points,” said High 1 coach Kim Yoon-sung, sounding a note of optimism.

By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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