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Park Helping To Grow Hockey To New Heights

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

In some respects, Richard Park is following in the footsteps of many retired NHL players who came before him.

In others, Park is helping to shape hockey in ways never before seen.

Park, who began serving as a Player Development Coach for the Minnesota Wild in October 2014, is assisting Wild prospects in Iowa, college, overseas, or wherever they're playing.

He also recently has begun working with the South Korean national hockey team as an assistant coach, amongst other roles, as the team prepares for the 2018 Olympics, which will be hosted in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"It's been great for me, I've learned a great deal in the one year," Park said of his time working with the national team. "And it's funny, because it's just another piece of the puzzle for me where it kind of helps me over here, the things that I gain, and vice versa. It's been a great experience, and we still have ways to go until the Olympics, but it's very exciting."

Park, who played his rookie season in the NHL in 1995, has seen the roadmap into the League change, but having gone down that road himself can share his knowledge with prospects.

"Obviously it helps a great deal," he said. "In saying that, you hope that you can maybe ease a little bit of the burden as far as expectations, maybe some of the pressures that these players will feel, or be kind of maybe forced upon them."

Park said his goal is to set up players to be successful both on and off the ice, and today, versus when he was trying to break into the NHL, players are afforded a more robust support system.

"There's no comparison," he said. " At least nowadays, you see it throughout the League, most of the organizations are doing everything that they can to give these kids every chance possible. Whether that's through a coach, a mentor, strength and conditioning, a diet plan — every resource that's available now was not available back then."

How he came into working with the Korean national team began last summer. Park is Korean-born, but moved to the United States at age three. He said in the summer of 2014, after retiring from hockey in 2013, he went through somewhat of a crossroads.

"I was kind of at that juncture not only in my career but in my life of deciding what I'd like to do, and sort of what my interests were within this game," Park said. "There were a couple of areas that I explored, and this opportunity came about to be part of the Olympic team."

Park has represented the Unites States in international competitions (he became the second-ever Korean-born NHL player when he entered the League). He said he has a lot of American pride, but that his work with the Korean team has allowed himself to gain a deeper cultural knowledge of the place he was born.

"At the end of the day, every day you look in the mirror and you know that your parents originated from somewhere," he said. "You get an appreciation of why your parents did the things, or why things were done when you were a kid, or the reasoning behind it. It's been a great, interesting learning experience for sure."

When South Korea takes the ice in 2018 in front of a home crowd, it will mark the first time the country has competed in hockey at the Olympics. That didn't come without its hurdles, as despite the fact that most host countries are granted automatic Olympic qualification, South Korea was asked to show progress by the International Ice Hockey Federation, and that it could be competitive with other Olympic programs.

"It's the Olympics, and to me it's the pinnacle sporting event in all of sports," Park said. "Being able to be part of an Olympic event, and represent your birthplace is an extremely, extremely high honor."

From a hockey perspective, Park is getting to fill roles that he said wouldn't have become available to him as quickly in other settings. In addition to being the team's assistant coach, he does some managing and directing for the program.

South Korea was recently promoted from Division 1B in the IIHF to 1A. Park said one of the challenges the program faces is getting to the top tier, where countries like Canada and the United States sit. He said a smaller player pool isn't necessarily among the challenges.

"It can be viewed as maybe a little bit of a blessing," Park said, "because you don't have much to work with, so all of your time needs to be spent with what you have rather than going out and searching for something that's really not attainable."

Whether it's with the Wild, or with South Korea, Park is helping mold future hockey players, regardless of if they'll become the next professional.

"Sometimes, you know that every player isn't going to become one," Park said. "But if we can help them become the best that they can become both on and off the ice, then that would be really successful for us."

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