History In The Making

North Carolina Native's First Olympic Goal Does More Than Just Light The Lamp For Korean Team

GANGNEUNG, South Korea – It will one day go down in Korean hockey lore as a story to rival Mike Eruzione’s goal in 1980, or Paul Henderson’s Summit Series winner against the Russians in 1972. Parents will tell their kids and grandkids about the glorious goal that made Olympic hockey history.

 

Time has a funny way of glorifying the past, blurring the lines between hype and reality. Before that happens, Randi Griffins wants to set the record straight.

 

“That was a pretty crappy shot that took a couple of bounces and somehow went into the net,” said the Apex, N.C., native who is playing for the unified Korean team because of her family heritage.

 

No matter how you look at it, Korea’s first and only goal of the Olympics was pretty special and it sent fans into a frenzy inside the Kwandong Hockey Centre.

 

“It was electric and that’s a really awesome feeling to have that support,” Griffin said. “After the goal the energy in the arena was definitely something feeding off of so it was awesome.”

 

The sight of North Korean cheerleaders isolated in their own seating areas but still cheering in unison with fans from South Korea turned this otherwise second-tier women’s hockey game into a sporting spectacle with both social and political implications that could last long after the Olympic flame is extinguished.

 

Griffin’s goal will go down as the shining moment in what has been a disappointing Olympics, hockey wise, for the home team. The, 3-1, loss to Japan was the team’s third defeat in as many games and sent them into the classification round. 

 

“It’s good that we scored a goal in the Olympics and it’s something that we talked about,” Griffin said. “We didn’t want to leave the Olympics not having scored a goal. So it feels great to have one under our belt, for sure.”

 

In the end, these games are about more than wins and losses for this team or a divided Korean Peninsula.

 

The decision was made just three weeks before the start of the Olympics that 12 players from North Korea would be added to this team, leaving head coach Sarah Murray little time to change on the fly. The first call she made was to her father, former NHL head coach Andy Murray, who has also coached teams in Europe.

 

“I don’t really think there are a lot of coaches who have experience with a situation like this,” said Murray, who played for the University of Minnesota Duluth.

 

“I think for us it was learning as we went. When the players came in we wanted them to be a part of our team so we started having systems meetings, teaching them everything. Every time we had a system meeting we had South players help teach the North players. And after two days the North players knew more than our players did. They’ve been working really hard. It’s the players that make this work.”

 

As for the political implications surrounding this team, the coaches and players will leave that to the politicians.

 

“Once the decision was made to combine the teams, we were one team,” Murray said. “Our games were not a political statement to us. They were just games. We were just a team coming together, playing hockey and competing in the Olympics. The same as Japan. Same as Canada. We weren’t trying to make a statement, we were just trying to play our best game with the roster that we had.”

 

Over the course of their time together, which was always under the watchful eye of North Korean representatives, the players quickly discovered that more unites them than divides them.

 

“They’re just people. They’re young women and hockey players just like us,” said Griffin, who is working on her PhD in evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “When we sit in the dining hall and have a conversation it’s pretty much everyday stuff like who has a boyfriend and what kind of food they like to eat.”

 

As the senior statesman on the team, Griffin is not only looked up to on the ice but in the locker room as well. A big part of that is the experience she gained as a coach back home in North Carolina.

 

“I love coaching and I’m looking forward to getting back into that when my playing career finally ends for real,” said Griffins, a USA Hockey Certified Level 4 coach. “And if this impacts that in any way it would probably be because I’ve been doing a little coaching here.”

 

It’s her way of giving back to the game she traded in a pair of figure skates to play after watching the U.S Women’s Team win gold 20 years ago at the Nagano Olympics.

 

“The 1998 Olympics was a huge inspiration for me,” she said. “I had been wanting to play hockey for a while but the cliché thing to say is that girls don’t play hockey. The ’98 Olympics changed all that. It was the first time my parents were on board with me playing.”

 

And now Griffin is hoping to inspire the next generation of Korean girls the way Katie King, Cammi Granato and Shelley Looney inspired her.

“The opportunity to come and play in South Korea, which right now is not a big hockey country, for me is largely about trying to grow this game and hopefully spark that same kind of inspiration in young Korean skaters who might otherwise go toward the speedskating or figure skating route,” she said. “Maybe now they’ll play hockey.”

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