Former X-Women hockey goalie Sojung Shin is happy to be back at StFX this season. This time she has set aside her goalie pads and has taken on a new role – one as a coach.
Shin has been assisting the team as a goaltender coach this season, accompanying head coach Ben Berthiaume and assistant coaches Willie Joe Sofan, Bryan Smith and Trevor MacIsaac. She provides coaching and video analysis and works with current X-Women goalies Cassidy McEwan, Jamie Johnson and Madison McClure, along with working with fellow goaltender coach Richie Connors.
She is enjoying the role, commenting, "I love being involved with the X-Women team and helping out the goalies. I am travelling back and forth from Halifax so I am doing my best to come to Antigonish as much as I can."
"I have tried to make it to all games to do video analysis for the goaltenders. When I played, it helped a lot to watch the game video to figure out what I should be doing during practices to get better. When I watched my game clips, I could figure out what my strengths and weaknesses were in game situations, then I could practice to get better for the next game, so I thought I could be helpful in providing this video analysis for our X goalies. There are good goaltender coaches already at StFX who assist the goalies in their development during practices, so my hope is this video analysis has helped our goaltenders get even better."
Sojung played three seasons for the X-Women between the pipes from 2015 to 2014, graduating with a BA degree in Human Kinetics. While at StFX she was the starting goaltender and helped lead the team to an AUS championship banner in the 2014-15 season. She was honoured for her on-ice play that season as an AUS first team all-star.
A native of Seoul, South Korea, Shin began playing hockey at the young age of seven and by the age of nine she was training with the national team in a country where hockey players were a rarity. Growing up she dreamt of representing her country at the Olympics and at age 14 she made her debut for the South Korean national team.
Shin played in various Asian Winter Games and represented her nation in the lowest level of the IIHF Women's World Championship where they were dominated on the scoreboard by opposing teams. The team struggled off the ice as well in acquiring quality ice time, gear, training facilities and overall resources in comparison to other sports in South Korea since hockey was not a priority and there were few young participants.
Nonetheless, Shin persevered and kept with the sport she loved and when it was announced that PyeongChang, South Korea would be the host of the 2018 Olympic Games, opportunity presented itself.
Typically the host country is provided an automatic Olympic hockey berth, but South Korea was mandated to prove that they were serious about the sport and would be able to compete at the highest level. A funding injection from a newly appointed Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA) President who was a well-regarded businessman kickstarted the process four years out from the Games.
Shin and her teammates practiced under the guidance of American-born head coach Sarah Murray, and KIHA recruited North American players of Korean descent to bolster the roster. After meeting with one such teammate who came via Wilfrid Laurier University, Shin realized her best way to improve her game was to play in Canada or the USA. After she emailed virtually every Canadian school with a women's hockey program, X-Women head coach at the time David Synishin, along with assistant coach Ben Berthiaume jumped at the chance to bring Shin on board at StFX University after watching her video and reached out to her.
Sojung joined the StFX program in 2015 and although she originally committed to staying for two years the X-Women coaches convinced her to stay for a third season as well. Upon graduating, Shin continued her training with the Korean national team and fought through several injuries on her journey to the Olympic Games. She joined the New York Riveters of the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) in late 2016, becoming the league's first Korean-born player.
The Korean squad won the 2017 Division II Group A IIHF World Championship and played several games against NCAA programs and prep schools in preparation for the upcoming Games.
Five weeks prior to the Olympics it was announced that players from both North and South Korea were to be joined into one unified team to represent the host country. The team would play in Group B along with Sweden, Switzerland and Japan. Amidst the political drama that played out, Shin took to the ice for her country in front of her home fans, living out her childhood dream.
The team struggled in round robin play, dropping games to Switzerland (8-0), Sweden (8-0) and Japan (4-1), but re-grouped in the classification round where they played a close game in a rematch against Switzerland, but lost 2-0. Sojung had an incredible 51 saves in the game for Korea. They rounded out the tournament with a 6-1 loss to Sweden.
Following her Olympic experience, Shin decided to hang up the goalie skates for good and officially retire from her playing days in the spring of 2019. She had been thinking of retiring since 2016 and wanted to try something new, she always wanted to open a restaurant or go into acting. And as a single child who lost her father as a teenager, she also wanted to spend more time with her mother in their native South Korea, rather than be on the other side of the world in North America. For her to commit to a second Olympic Games would mean another four years living away to hone her skills.
Shin also felt that it was time for a generational shift in female Korean goaltenders as she had been the top goalie in the country since 2007. The timing was right for some new, younger goaltenders to take their turn in the spotlight and continue more intensive training for the 2022 Olympic Games.
Sojung commented, "Before our last game at the Olympics, I already had the decision to retire on my mind. Since the last goal of my hockey career was to play in the Olympics in 2018, I was not confident in by ability to work as hard as I did before the Olympics."
Following the game, she informed one of the Team Korea executive directors and her goalie coach of her decision. After several meetings, the executive director convinced her to stay on to play in the next IIHF World Championship in Italy that April, which she did. The South Korean team won silver at the World Championship in Group B, playing to a 3-1 record where they lost out to Italy. After the World Championship, Shin officially retired from hockey.
During her time in Seoul following her hockey experiences, Sojung had plenty of time to think about her future plans. She took acting classes for six months and was running popular food truck for eight months. Once winter started up, she missed the ice and began coaching private sessions for goalies. She received coaching offers from various Korean teams but had the pull to return to Canada and pursue coaching options abroad. She spoke with Coach Berthiaume who welcomed her back to the X-Women program.
In addition, Sojung serves as a guardian for two Korean female athletes who are playing hockey in Canada, one of whom is the daughter of her friend. She lives with the two girls, along with a friend in Dartmouth, N.S. and commutes to StFX to fulfill her coaching duties as needed.
As for what the future may bring for Sojung Shin, she notes, "My long term plan is to get coaching experience as long as I can in Canada and also to run my business. I hope to expand my business in the area and have it do well in the future, along with being a good hockey coach for female players and goalies in helping them to develop both as good hockey players as well as good people."
When asked about a possible return to Korea, Shin said she doesn't have any immediate plans to coach in Korea yet. "There is only one women's professional team in Korea so I would like to learn and get more coaching experience here. If I get coaching job here in Canada, I would like to be here, however, someday I would like to contribute and help Korean female athletes develop in the future if I have chance to get coaching job in Korea."
Courtesy Krista McKenna, StFX Athletics