“I slept 16 hours a day for two days.”
At the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship held in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do in April, the driving force that promoted Korean women’s ice hockey to the second division (Division 1 Group A) for the first time in history seemed to be unable to move in front of the fatigue. Her whole body ached and she even suffered from body aches, but she said that she felt much lighter as she recharged her energy with sweet sleep. He missed only 6 of 131 opponent shots as he finished the tournament with a 5-0 win. Korean women’s ice hockey took off to a new stage thanks to the ‘iron gatekeeper’ who performed perfectly on the debut stage of the A-match.
On the 26th, I met Huh Eun-bi (21, University of Connecticut), a goalie for the women’s national team who rose to stardom overnight, at a cafe in Bundang, Seongnam, Gyeonggi-do. Is it the result of his body reacting and evolving while blocking the flying puck like lightning? Her eyes are sharp, even though she is wearing a simple uniform with her helmet and protective gear removed. When praised for her near-flawless ERA, Heo Eun-bi said, “No. Her heart was beating wildly, and she was very nervous. She hid it as much as possible so the other players wouldn’t notice. I did the rest while having fun,” she replied.
In ice hockey, the goalie’s ability is considered a key factor in winning or losing. Eunbi Huh said, “I don’t know. I think that if the puck goes behind me, I will lose, so I block it unconditionally.” At a height of 1m71, carrying more than 10kg of equipment on his back and repeating squatting and standing up repeatedly puts strain on his knees. It is common to get bruises if hit incorrectly by a hard puck. However, he said, “Even 5 minutes after the start of the game, my body sweats. Being sick is not a problem. Son Heung-min also endured. He can’t feel the pain because of the thrill of fighting alongside his sisters and winning.”
Heo Eun-bi, who accidentally caught the stick after going to the rink with her younger brother in the 2nd and 3rd grade of elementary school, has an age gap with the seniors who participated in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. However, he had potential enough to play as a practice opponent for the national team ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Taking a leave of absence to prepare for the world competition, he said, “I really wanted to seize the opportunity to advance to the second division. A month before the competition, I cycled while eating and sleeping according to the game time. He prepared for the actual competition from three days before the event to the time he put on his gear. It seems that long sincerity has worked,” he said.
Heo Eun-bi has excellent movement speed, catching bouncing balls, stability, and one-on-one response. However, skill alone does not make a good goalkeeper. He said, “The goalie has to read the flow of the game. You need to understand the team’s tactical system and be able to anticipate changes in the situation every moment.”
His insatiable fighting spirit is also a part of his personality. Heo Eun-bi said, “Ever since I was young, I couldn’t forgive anything if it wasn’t first place. The same is true within the national team. We have to win everything.” Although he won the match against Slovenia 크크크벳(4-2) in the third match of this world championship, he cried alone because he could not stand the absurd conceding. Captain Han Soo-jin noticed and came to comfort her, but she said more tears poured out.
Tenacity or selfishness is a virtue for an athlete. Making friends with poor English while studying hockey in Canada, and winning four awards at graduation, including math, credits, and athletics, shows that athletes with strong endurance can study well. “I am very adaptable,” he laughed.
For such Eunbi Heo, the stage of the second division of the world competition scheduled for next year is a big hurdle. I fought well this time, but the reality of Korean women’s ice hockey is poor. There is no high school or university team, and only the Suwon City Hall has the unemployment team. The children’s club is said to be active, but there are around 500 registered players, including elementary school students. This is why it is said that the promotion of the national team to the second division is a great achievement.
Heo Eun-bi, who is always full of confidence, said, “I know very well that the teams we will face in the second division next year are all strong teams. However, you need to devise a strategy that suits each team. We may lack individual skills, but when we come together, we generate much greater strength.” It won’t be that easy.
However, looking at Heo Eun-bi, who says, “I feel anxious even if I take two days off from practice,” it seems clear that the “fast and rough” characteristics of ice hockey stimulate Heo Eun-bi’s fighting spirit. It is also true that his determination to “don’t know if you don’t do it” gives him a sense of anticipation for next year’s world championships. A new challenge for women’s ice hockey, with Heo Eun-bi at the center.