'It felt like a home game': Canadian expats, South Korean locals on hand to cheer on Team Canada
Published Monday, February 12, 2018 12:06PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 13, 2018 12:15PM EST
Assigned to cover a pre-Olympic Men’s Team Canada hockey game against Sweden in Incheon, South Korea, we got on the road early, driving three hours south from Gangneung, where I am staying now, to the local arena.
We were expecting the usual tight Olympic security, bag checks and the whole deal, just to get into the game.
When we arrived, it was anything but. We walked into what we thought was the media entrance, where there were just a few kids standing by the door, but they stepped out of the way and we walked right through.
On the other side we found no security guards or metal detectors whatsoever, in fact, we accidentally walked right into Team Sweden’s dressing room.
That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the shoot.
It was like nothing I had ever experienced. Maybe it was because Canada, Sweden and most of the rest of the men’s teams are not made up of millionaire superstars from the NHL.
Don’t get me wrong, these players are good, but we all know Team Canada could have easily put together 20 teams of pros that could have given this team a run for its money.
Eventually, the crowds started coming into the arena by the hundreds. Most were Korean, many looking around the rink like they had never seen one before in their lives. And actually, for some of them, that was probably the truth.
Mixed among the locals were a few dozen Canadian expats, as far as I could tell from speaking to them. Most were living in South Korea, either because they were working there or had married a Korean person and stayed.
I met one woman originally from Sarnia, Ont., who had moved to Seoul 15 years ago. We stood together as they played the Canadian national anthem, she had tears in her eyes. Since moving to Korea she started a family, she had a boy who was five and a girl who was just 11-months-old. She told me after the anthem how showing them the game of hockey had been a dream of hers and that she was overcome with emotion that their first game was a Team Canada match.
Small in numbers, the Canadian hockey fans were loud in passion. Armed with Canadian flags, Olympic team gear and NHL jerseys, they cheered and screamed and sang as Team Canada hit the ice.
Their passion started to spread. As the game went on and the hits, fights and goals started piling up, the crowd started chanting, “Go Canada Go! Go Canada Go!” Speaking to one Korean man, he told me he was surprised by the speed and violence, and that hockey was “truly a man’s game.”
I then tried finding a few Korean kids to speak to me. While I had a translator, I really wanted to find a few who spoke at least a little English. It didn’t take long, especially with a camera and microphone. Every kid was begging to talk. I asked one boy why he loved hockey and he told me it was the fighting. And what about who his favourite team was? Without a pause, he blurted out, “Team Canada, of course. They are the best in the world.”
Enough said. Anyway, with most of the interviews out of the way the unfettered access truly began. We took the elevator down to ice level. There we stood right next to Canada’s bench.
It was fun to watch the speed and power that close up. Sitting next to me was Ben Scrivens, the team’s number one goalie. With no room on the bench, he was given a stool to rest on after two solid periods of play. Both me and my camera were able to move between the Canadian and Swedish benches, getting shots and recording all the chirping going on and off the ice.
Canada banged in a few more goals to put the game out of reach at 4-1. The last four minutes of play were basically a powerplay for Sweden, which pulled its goalie to try to save face.
When the buzzer sounded the stands erupted, the red and white was everywhere, fans were cheering and even a few bars of O’ Canada were sung.
Standing at the bench as the team filed onto the ice, the organizers brought out some kids and parents to pose with the players. Not wanting to miss this opportunity and not having been told “no” all day, my shooter and I also went out on the ice.
We got great shots from centre ice, up close, tight and personal pictures of the kids and the players; 360-degrees around us there were cheers and applause.
The players, as if choreographed, began skating around with their sticks in the air saluting their supporters.
When they were done, and not wanting to miss out, I pulled a few of them aside and asked them what they thought of the crowd.
“It felt like a home game,” said Rene Bourque, “we truly feel embraced by Canada.”
Then they all skated off leaving us there at centre ice alone, the arena all around us cheering for Canada. It’s a place I doubt I will ever get be again during these Olympics but I have to say, once was just perfect.