The language of hockey
A South Korean hockey goalie braces for an incoming shot during a practice session with Airmen from Kunsan Air Base May 13, 2012, in Jeonju, South Korea. The weekly session helps Koreans and Americans keep their skills sharp while also building community relationships. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brigitte N. Brantley)
by Senior Airman Brigitte N. Brantley
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
5/15/2012 - JEONJU, Republic of Korea -- Every Sunday night, Americans, South Koreans and Canadians gather at the Hwasan Ice Arena to practice a sport many here are surprised to hear about - ice hockey.
With language and cultural barriers, the players from Kunsan Air Base have difficulty communicating, but a common love for the sport helps them overcome the challenge.
"We're just guys who love hockey," said Coach Pyung Hyun-Yim via translation.
He added the weekly gatherings are a good way to get together and have fun.
Because hockey is vastly more popular in the United States and Canada, players are often more skilled and possess the necessary experience to help South Koreans develop their skills and new-found love of the sport.
"When I heard there was ice hockey here, I was ecstatic," said Staff Sgt. Gianpierre Salazar, an 8th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter who has played since he was eight years old. "I never thought there would be a rink here. I grew up in Canada and picked it up quickly. I just fell in love with it."
Because he didn't know about the sport's presence before he got here, he wasn't prepared when he heard about it.
"I wish I had known sooner. The only equipment I'm wearing that's mine is the jersey," he said. "The Koreans let me borrow the rest."
Although a few of the Koreans speak English, much of the communication on the ice is done through hand gestures, and Pyung regularly gathers the team on the rink to draw out plays on a white board.
In the end, it's a good learning experience for both sides.
"They never thought there would be Americans," said Salazar, who agreed getting involved in activities like this helps build community relationships. "They have a good coach that teaches them how to play, how to pass, how to turn. The progress they've made is pretty amazing."
Salazar is able to continue in his home-grown love of the sport while sharing his first-hand knowledge with his host country teammates, ultimately becoming a better wingman both on and off the ice.
"The camaraderie we get from it is a huge benefit, and it's good to be involved with something away from the base," he added.
Any Airmen interested in joining the hockey fun are welcome to call Salazar at the Fire Department at 782-4471.