Korea women's hockey coach Sarah Murray doesn't flinch in face of adversity

Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Olympics

Murray has handled this delicate situation perfectly. She acknowledged initially that she had "mixed feelings" but quickly turned her focus to creating team unity. She has made an awkward situation seem as normal as possible.

Her players will march together during the Opening Ceremony. They share meetings together, eat meals together and hang out in the locker room together instead of breaking into sides.

"The chemistry is better than I could have expected," she said. "When I heard they were joining our team I thought worst-case scenario: We are going to be separate, our players are not going to talk. But it is fantastic."

Murray is not obligated to use North Korean players in specific roles or give them a certain amount of playing time, only that three are in her lineup every game.

That adds complications because her roster now has 35 players instead of 23, which means players that she has spent years developing now will be scratched some games. That might force her to put players of lesser talent in the lineup.

"The thing we were most worried about was team chemistry, and right now the chemistry is good," she said. "The communication is good. We just need to tweak some of our systems. For the situation we are in, we feel good."

Expectations for the team already were fairly low since women's hockey has minuscule participation numbers in the country. But the program has made significant improvement in international competitiveness since Murray assumed control of the operation four years ago.

Murray's dad, Andy, has coached hockey for decades at all levels, including 10 years as an NHL head coach. He shared a piece of advice with his daughter shortly after she accepted the job in 2014.

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"Have a little patience," he said. "She was going to go in there and change the world right away."

He probably didn't envision this exact scenario. Andy Murray undoubtedly has witnessed a lot of unusual things in his own coaching career. His daughter has a story to share with him now.

However her team fares in the tournament, Murray should be commended for handling a difficult situation with a smart, respectful touch.

"Our players are together," she said. "This is our family, and this is great."

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