RED DEER – The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) had an international flavour the past month, as Alberta teams welcomed the Korea University Tigers for a set of exhibition contests.
The Tigers, who are based in Seoul, began their trip to Alberta on January 12 against the Concordia University (Edmonton) Thunder, with Concordia winning 4-3 in overtime. Korea University would follow that up with games against NAIT, Portage College, Augustana and Briercrest. A game against SAIT was cancelled due to the injury bug hitting the Trojans roster.
Mark Kosak, Chief Executive Officer of the ACAC, said that the planning for this exhibition tour started in September when Korea University played Augustana in a pair of exhibition matchups.
“The Korean team was here in Canada, exploring the opportunity to play some Canadian competition,” Kosak said. “They’re the dominant university team in Korea so they were here for a couple of exhibition games.”
While the team was in country, the Tigers had their eyes set on potentially playing more games against ACAC oppositions.
“They reached out to my office to see if they could discuss the prospects of joining the ACAC at some point in the near future … it seemed like a crazy idea at the time that they’d want to play in our conference,” Kosak said. “We met so I could get a better understanding of their vision. One of the requirements was for them to return this year and play our teams to see if they were competitive and could legitimately be an ACAC team.”
The Tigers proved they could hang with their Alberta counterparts, defeating Portage College 7-3 and losing a pair of close games to NAIT and Augustana. The Tigers wrapped up their trip with a 5-1 loss to top ranked Briercrest College.
“It did surprise me, it shouldn’t have because they wouldn’t have asked for this opportunity or gone on this tour, unless they were confident that they could be competitive,” Kosak said. “They did their research, I give them credit, because they knew the level of playing the ACAC, and they felt that they could compete with our ACAC athletes. What we’ve observed is that they’re highly skilled, and they’re very structured.”
The team has since put in their application to play in the ACAC as early as next season. Their application is currently under review with a decision coming in May. There are a lot of logistics to sort through to make this a feasible option. Would Korea University play all road games? Would they have a home base in Canada? Kosak said that the two sides were working on piecing a possible solution together.
“It’s got a whole lot of moving parts and it’s not something that’s happening quickly. But the plan is that they would relocate to Calgary and play their games out of Seven Chiefs Sportsplex,” Kosak said. “They would move to Calgary in October, with the entire team, a delegation of support staff plus about 30 players, and they would stay in Calgary until the end of March and fulfill a schedule just like every other ACAC team.”
The academic year in South Korea is different than it is in Canada. The first semester begins in March and ends in the middle of July, then starts up again in August and goes until the middle of February. Exhibition games in the ACAC begin in September and conference play typically begins in mid October. Korean students would take online courses for the duration of their time in Canada and return in March once the season is over.
“It’s unique. The notion of them joining our league is entirely out of the box. No one else has ever done this, thought about it or been approached for it,” Kosak said. “I’m very proud of our conference that we are open minded because the easy decision would have been to say, no, no, we can’t do this. It’s crazy. Let’s not even spend the effort, the time and effort. I think everyone involved has an obligation to the sport of hockey to do what we can to contribute to the growth of hockey around the world. The ACAC has always been limited in what we can do in that respect. But this is our opportunity to help grow hockey in South Korea.”
The ACAC currently has seven teams, with bye weeks incorporated into the schedule so adding an eighth team to the conference would allow for teams to play games on a more frequent basis.