Sojung Shin has identified as a hockey player since the age of seven. Growing up in South Korea, the hockey market is at best, obscure. Nevertheless, she found a way to play alongside and against top North Americans in college, as a professional, and as an Olympian.
In June, Shin announced her retirement from hockey, just three months after competing for the first-ever ice hockey team to represent Korean in the Winter Olympics. Shin’s journey is truly remarkable, though it may never flood the pages of mainstream media outlets. We caught up with the former New York Riveters goalie via email to ask about living out her dream in the PyeongChang Games, and what the future holds.
Long Road to the Olympics
Korea has a population of 50,924,172 and only 500 registered hockey players total, per the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Add onto that the difficulties women have entering the sports arena and it’s easy to see how much of a feat being a young goalie from Korea was for Shin.
Despite it all, Shin had a solid career at St. Francis Xavier in Canada, becoming the first Korean player EVER to play college hockey in North America. In three seasons with the X-Women, she tallied a 1.19 goals against average (GAA) and was named to the AUS All-Star first team en route to a 2014-15 conference title.
In 2016-17, Shin signed with the Riveters and became the first-ever female Korean hockey player to go pro. She helped New York improve to 8-7-3 after winning only four games the season before. Shin held her own against the firepower of the Boston Pride in her first three professional starts and eventually earned her first win—and the second-ever franchise shutout—on December 18, 2016 against the Connecticut Whale.
After one season in the NWHL, Shin turned her attention to the 2018 Winter Olympics as number one net minder for the host team.
Reflecting on the 2018 Winter Games
“The Olympic[s] was my dream. The opportunity to play in every games in the Olympic[s] was very precious for me,” Shin told The Ice Garden back in February.
Making the moment even more special was the reception of the home crowd. Shin grew up at a time where playing hockey was a fight, not an honor. The tide changed once Korea hit the ice. “It was incredible. We never expected to receive a very warm reception during the Olympics and play in the front of crowds since Korean did not know hockey very well.”
“I can’t describe the word how my feeling was. It was fantastic. I never forget this moments in my life. Also when I was exhausted during the game, I couldn’t give up and could overcome my fatigue by cheering from crowds.”
For once, the women’s ice hockey team was front and center. Korea was a long shot to be competitive against superpowers like the United States and Canada, but that didn’t stifle the excitement. Nor did a last minute decision to add North Korean players to the roster and play the Unified Korean Team.
Together, But Truly Unified?
“After we hear[d] about the Unified team, we were very disappointed about this. Because we had prepared a lot for the Olympic[s] and they just decided this without our opinions,” Shin stated via email. After years of planning, North Korean players were added to the roster two weeks before the Olympic Games. It was an unwelcome burden and a media distraction for the host team.
In the documentary “We Are One”, The Olympic Channel follows the journey of the Unified Team. From rarely having all players on the ice for practices, to having to translate instructions, the decision to unify added additional challenges to an already enormous feat. The challenge for the North Korean players must have been emotional, who were well aware that they were an uncalculated and perhaps an unwelcome addition to the team.
“At first, we didn’t play in harmony. Then, day after day, we got along great and planned how to handle it,” North Korean player Kim Hyang-Mi told The Olympic Channel.
“We thought this was impossible and it didn’t make sense at all,” said Shin. “But we thought we don’t need to think about things we can’t control. We knew we should focus on what we can do so we just did work hard and did our best in this situations. We didn’t want to regret in the Olympics.”
The team went 0-5-0 in their first Olympic games. Randi Griffin scored the first Olympic goal in the history of Korea. “It was a pretty crappy shot that took a couple of bounces and happened to go into the net,” the guard told The Color of Hockey after the game. “I got lucky.” Griffin will follow her in Korean teammates footsteps and play professionally with the Connecticut Whale in the 2018-19 NWHL season.
Shin herself was a Team Korea highlight. “Korea’s Sojung Shin faced 236 shots in five games and an average of 47.96 shots against per 60 minutes,” wrote Mike Murphy in a statistical breakdown of the 2018 PyeongChang Games. She even earned the respect of her competitors.
We asked Shin what moments stood out most, “Every moments stand out most. Haha. I couldn’t forget every single games and march of opening ceremony. Especially, after we finished our last game, I started crying after we gathered in the faceoff circle for the team.
“I was last player on the ice. I wanted to say goodbye to the crowds and our family and tried to bow for the respect for them. I was so emotional. And it was so sad that game was our last in the Olympic.”
All Good Things Come to an End
In June, Shin announced she will retire from hockey. After some thought, Shin didn’t believe she had any more to prove or achieve in the game. “I had been thinking about the retirement period since two years ago,” Shin told The Ice Garden via email over the summer. “I thought I cannot try my best and work hard again after [a] dream come true.”
But, the Olympics was also very physically and emotionally grueling for the 28-year old. After some time, she was ready to say goodbye. She came up from no set path and brought honor to her country and the game. Shin felt there was no more to reach for in the sport.
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I have decided to end my hockey career since I start to play hockey at the age of 7. I think it’s time for me to retire from competitive hockey and then move on to my next chapter in my life. I am not confidence to push my limit and do hard work after the Olympic which is my last goal in my hockey life. Hockey has been a big part of my life and it has given me so much, always... Also the games brought me so much joy and happiness. All of things in my hockey life made me into a person I am today. Sometimes I had been hard time during challenging my hockey career but I could overcome all of obstacles from the people who support me. I have achieved all of my goals including being a national team player, playing hockey in North America, playing in World Championships, Asian games and Olympic as a national team member. I’m extremely proud to have done that and I’m so lucky to have done all of these as a women’s hockey player in Korea. I have had such an amazing support from many people and I couldn’t have done any of things without your help. I won’t forget it. To all of my teammates, coaches, staffs, Korea Ice Hockey Association, supporters, fans who I’ve met in my hockey life, thank you for supporting me all the times. I’m so honored to meet you. Also huge thanks to my mom to support behind of me. It was not perfect ending I wanted but I’ve learned a lot. My experiences in hockey would help me to grow up in the future as a better person and be great lessons for the next chapter in my life. Now it’s time to say good bye.. See you soon somewhere! Thank you again! Sojung Shin . . . #hockeyplayer #goalie #athlete #olympian #retirement #career #ended #teamkorea #stfx #newyorkriveters #littlewinia #thankyou #loveyou #missyou
“I’m so lucky person as women’s hockey player, especially as a Korean women’s hockey player. I had achieved all of my goals as women’s hockey player. I could play in the Olympic[s], Worlds, Asian games as national team player and also play in the North America as a college player and also professional player.”
Shin has given some thought to what will come next, and if she were to have a vision board, it would be made up of a number of things: resting, cooking, and perhaps some acting! “I would like to act since I was 15. So I’ve just started to taking acting classes after the retirement.”
She also hopes to take up snowboarding this coming winter. “I would live in Ski resort during the winter for snowboarding. Haha ... I love to snowboard, but I couldn’t do this after the announcement that Korea held the Winter Olympic in 2012.”
Shin stayed off the slopes to steer clear of unnecessary soreness or injury, but now she’s ready to rip. Her next competitive goal is to compete in amateur snowboarding competitions in Korea.
Once a competitor, always a competitor!