Clinton goalie to stop pucks for South Korea at Olympics
Ryan Flanagan, CTV Kitchener
Published Wednesday, February 7, 2018 6:49PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 8, 2018 10:49AM EST
Much has been made of the 25 players who have been unexpectedly given the opportunity to represent Canada at the Olympics as the country’s men’s hockey team.
With no NHL players allowed to compete in the tournament, Team Canada is being represented by a collection of minor-leaguers, players plying their trade in Europe and recent retirees.
And on Feb. 18, when they play host country South Korea in their final preliminary round game, they’ll be firing pucks at a fellow Canadian.
Matt Dalton is expected to be South Korea’s starting goalie for every game at the Olympics.
It’s the latest chapter in a strange journey that has seen the 31 year old travel the world to fulfill his hockey dreams.
After growing up in Clinton, Dalton ended up in the U.S. for junior and college hockey. He spent two years bouncing between minor leagues before the Russian KHL came calling.
Dalton’s KHL team folded after his third year there, and he was talked into joining the South Korean pro hockey league. Now in his fourth season in South Korea, he has become a naturalized citizen of that country – which is enough to allow him to represent it at the Olympics.
As South Korea is not a traditional hockey hotbed – their current international ranking of 19th is by far the lowest among Olympic teams, and barely puts them ahead of Hungary and Poland – even one victory would be seen as a surprise.
Still, there is some hope that the South Koreans will be able to at least give more established hockey powers a run for their money.
The team held its own at a recent Olympic tune-up tournament in Russia, never allowing more than five goals in a game and never allowing themselves to be shut out as they took on Canada, Sweden and Finland.
If nothing else, Dalton is treating the chance to play in the Olympics for his adopted country as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Several family members are making the trip to cheer him on, including his 10-month-old son.
“I know he’s not going to remember any of it, but (it will be) nice to be able to tell him he was here,” he says.
If nothing else, Dalton hopes stories like his – and that of fellow Ontarian Brock Radunske, a New Hamburg native considered one of the stars of the South Korean team – could help grow the game in South Korea while reminding Canadians that there’s more to hockey than the NHL.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from,” he says.
“If you believe in yourself and you keep working hard and following your dreams, you can accomplish things.”
With reporting by Randy Steinman