UPDATE : 2019.12.16 MON 10:14
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Men's hockey players wary of Olympic pressure after watching women's loss

While the joint Korean women's hockey team was taking a beating against Switzerland at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics on Saturday, their male brethren was taking note.

The unified team fell 8-0 to Switzerland, and head coach Sarah Murray and her players blamed the huge loss on nerves. After all, this was a young team -- 22 years old on average, the youngest in the tournament -- playing in its first Olympics.

And members of the men's team who watched it unfold on television said first-game jitters could get to them too.

Players on the South Korean men's national hockey team huddle around their head coach Jim Paek during their practice at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 11, 2018, in preparation for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. (Yonhap)

"They looked really nervous out there. Maybe the pressure of playing in the Olympics got to them," said men's forward Cho Min-ho, after his team's first practice at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, site of its group stage games.

"Watching them, I felt like we have to be really prepared mentally for our own games," Cho added. "We should try to relax for our first game. But the pressure of playing in the Olympics on home ice will always be there."

South Korea, ranked 21st, will face the sixth-ranked Czech Republic for its inaugural Olympic game Thursday. Then it's the seventh-ranked Switzerland on Saturday, followed by Canada, the world No. 1 and two-time defending gold medalist, the very next day.

Defenseman Lee Don-ku said the women's game felt so momentous, even from watching it on television, that it dawned on him that the Olympics is finally here.

"I think they tried their best, but that team has too many players without big game experience," Lee said. "We've been playing together as a team for a long time, and we've faced some tough opponents. We're trying to make sure we don't just crumble under pressure. If we stick to our game plans, I think we'll do fine."

Forward Lee Young-jun said he was inspired by the way the women's team fought until the end, even while it was down by several goals.

South Korean men's hockey players practice at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 11, 2018, in preparation for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. (Yonhap)

"A few years ago, we used to lose like that to strong opponents," Lee said. "And it was great to see the women's team battle all the way through and not give up."

Both the men's and the women's teams have made impressive progress in recent years. But with the formation of the joint team -- and political and diplomatic ramifications that came with it -- the women's squad may have stolen some thunder from the men's side.

Men's head coach Jim Paek said the women's team deserves "a lot of attention" for all the work its players have put in.

"Hopefully, it's positive attention," he said. "That's the important part because they've worked extremely hard to be here and to participate in the Olympics."

Cho, the men's forward, said it doesn't matter who gets the spotlight in the Olympics and added, "We just have to do what we're supposed to do."(Yonhap)

Kim Su-a  edt@koeapost.com

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