UPDATE : 2018.10.18 THU 16:30
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(Olympics) Uncertainty hangs over joint Korean hockey team as Olympic roster takes shape

The Olympic roster for the joint Korean women's hockey team appears to be taking shape, as a shroud of mystery came over the 35-deep squad on Tuesday.

The joint team had three practice sessions on Tuesday, at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, the site of its three group stage games during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Korea will take on Switzerland on Saturday, Sweden next Monday and Japan two days after that in Group B.

Coached by Sarah Murray, the unified Korean team lost to Sweden 3-1 in its only pre-Olympic contest last Sunday. The team arrived in Gangneung around 1 a.m. Monday, and mostly players who didn't dress for Sunday's game practiced for about an hour Monday afternoon.

Then Murray added two practice sessions to her original schedule of one for Tuesday. The first session featured 22 players -- 20 skaters and two goalies -- and that's the exact size of the game roster during the Olympics.

Members of the joint Korean women's hockey team practice at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 6, 2018. (Yonhap)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) allowed the Koreas to put 35 players on their joint entry -- 23 South Koreans and 12 North Koreans -- but the game roster of 22 remains unchanged. And of those 22, at least three must be North Korean players.

And if these three training sessions are any indication, the starting lineup is close to set.

The group of 22 who practiced first -- dubbed "Team A" -- included most of the South Korean mainstays, including captain Park Jong-ah, No. 1 goalie Shin So-jung and top defenseman Eom Su-yeon.

There were also five North Koreans, four of whom were in the lineup against Sweden last week. The fifth was forward Choe Jong-hui, who was one of North Korea's top forwards during last year's International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship Division II Group A tournament here in Gangneung

Murray ran that practice, but she was absent for the second session, involving "Team B," that went from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., as North Korean coach Pak Chol-ho and South Korean assistant Lee Kyou-sun were in charge of 11 players, including seven North Koreans.

One of the South Korean players was Caroline Park, who missed the Sweden game with an ankle injury and could remain sidelined for the Olympics.

How the coaches split their roles appeared to further clarify who was in charge. When the IOC finalized the joint team, it said Murray, South Korea's head coach since 2014, would be in charge behind the bench. When Pak Chol-ho crossed the border with his 12 players, there were some whispers that he could try to snatch some of Murray's control and work in the interest of his own players.

But sources with knowledge of the joint training camp, held behind the closed doors last month, have said Pak was fully cooperative with the coaching staff. During Tuesday's Team B practice, Pak and Lee, the South Korean assistant, looked comfortable in each other's presence as they took turns instructing players.

Members of the joint Korean women's hockey team practice at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 6, 2018. (Yonhap)

Murray was back on the ice for the third practice, and she ran some five-on-five drills and made some changes to the forward lines that played against Sweden, while keeping her defensive corps mostly intact.

Among the forwards, only the top line of Park Jong-ah, Grace Lee and Choi Yu-jung was left untouched. From the second line against Sweden, South Korean right winger Lee Eun-ji sat out all sessions on Tuesday with an ankle injury. Jong Su-hyon of North Korea and Han Soo-jin of South Korea were reunited, with Kim Hee-won replacing Lee on the right wing.

The third line showed the regular center Jo Su-sie flanked by Choe Jong-hui, a new North Korean on Team A who didn't face Sweden, and Danelle Im.

There were two North Korean forwards on the fourth line, Kim Un-hyang and Ryo Song-hui, skating next to Choi Ji-yeon.

Murray's hands were forced by injuries to key players. Before the game against Sweden, Jong Su-hyon, who has emerged as Murray's favorite North Korean player, had been practicing with Randi Heesoo Griffin and Lee Eun-ji. Griffin missed that contest with a hip injury and was a limited participant in Tuesday's practices. Lee Eun-ji is dealing with ankle issues of her own.

Another skilled winger, Caroline Park, has an ankle injury that could keep her out of the Olympics.

For all these changes, exactly what is on Murray's mind, as far as her roster is concerned, is anyone's guess. After meeting the media on Monday, Murray declined to take questions on Tuesday. The players were also not made available after all three sessions.

Members of the joint Korean women's hockey team practice at Kwandong Hockey Training Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 6, 2018. (Yonhap)

Hwi Won  edt@koeapost.com

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