South Korea, Next Olympics Host, Went Shopping in North America to Build Its Hockey Teams
For the men’s team, they recruited several North Americans playing on one of the three South Korea-based teams in the Asia League. They offered naturalization to a handful of players from the United States and Canada — none of whom have any Korean ancestry.
Mike Testwuide, a Colorado native, was approached by the national team coach, Jim Paek, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, during his second season with Anyang Halla of the Asia League. On a men’s squad that includes players with a wide range of abilities, Testwuide, a strapping 6-foot-5 center out of Colorado College, offers the big, physical presence in short supply here.
The prospect of joining the Olympic fraternity thrilled the 30-year-old Testwuide. But it took him a week to agree to become the first men’s hockey player to become a dual citizen of the United States and the Republic of Korea. That was how long he needed to gauge his comfort level with two prospects: Could he hold his right hand over his heart during the playing of a national anthem that was not “The Star-Spangled Banner” and not feel like an impostor — or a traitor? And how would one of the world’s most homogeneous cultures react to a towering, pale-skinned forward representing them on the world stage?
“There’s a lot of negativity out there,” Testwuide said. “In the U.S. it was like, ‘Why would you want to play for another country?’” He added, “And in Korea it’s like, ‘Why are we bringing you guys in?’”
The naturalization process took roughly a month, Testwuide said, and included memorizing the Korean national anthem. It took considerably longer for him to feel comfortable in his dual role as hockey ringer and proselytizer of puck.
“You want to be as Korean as possible, but in your head you’re kind of fighting it and you’re questioning whether you’re doing the right thing,” Testwuide said, adding, “It’s a big responsibility, and it’s a ton of added pressure.”
Tyler Brickler, a Chicago native whose mother is from South Korea, is in the process of acquiring his citizenship. Brickler, 26, was invited to a national training camp in South Korea during his senior year at SUNY Geneseo and signed out of college with the Asia League, his interest whetted by the possibility of an Olympic berth.
“It is a very weird situation for me, for sure,” Brickler said before a home game in February in the northern Seoul suburb of Goyang. “Playing in North America, I was sometimes considered the Asian player on the team, but when I came out here I’m considered the American.”
He added, “I might not look it fully or speak it, but no one can take away the fact that I have Korean blood from my mother.”
Marissa Brandt, who played at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., will be a defenseman on the women’s team, whose roster is about 20 percent North American. She was born in South Korea and adopted by an American family. “When I was in the States, I didn’t want to be Korean, I wanted to be like everyone else,” she said. In the summer of 2015, she traveled to Korea for the first time since her adoption to attend a hockey camp and was transformed.
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