When Randi Griffin scored Korea’s first goal in the team’s final preliminary-round game against Japan, she undoubtedly wanted the puck back.
It wasn’t a beauty, but Griffin’s score was Korea’s first-ever Olympic hockey goal—men’s or women’s. And it had added significance after the South Korean women’s team combined with its northern neighbors to become a unified Korean squad just before the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics. The Kwandong Hockey Centre erupted when the puck trickled into the net, and Griffin disappeared into a pile of leaping bodies.
When she emerged and got set for the restart, the puck was gone.
Martin Hyun, deputy sport manager for hockey at the PyeongChang Games, had jumped out of his seat as soon as he saw the lamp light up: first out of celebration, and then out of desperation. He sprinted to referee Drahomira Fialova to make sure she didn’t drop the same puck to resume the game, and he went to the scorekeeper’s table to retrieve it.
It didn’t matter that Korea was still down 2-1, or that the team would go on to lose 4-1 to Japan, a fierce regional rival. Korea had never even played an Olympic game before 2018; in fact, many players needed to learn fundamentals of hockey in the years leading up to the tournament in PyeongChang. Finally, that journey had culminated in a goal.
"If the puck was still in play and gone, the historic puck would be gone forever," Hyun told Yonhap News Agency. "I ran and made my voice heard that the puck has to come and stay."
Once Hyun secured the memorabilia, he had to decide who would get to keep it. The Korean Ice Hockey Association wanted the puck, but Hyun decided to hand it to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) office in South Korea, where an IIHF official would deliver it to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. It will never draw as much attention as the Stanley Cup or Wayne Gretzky’s game-worn gear, but the puck will forever sit in the sport’s most revered shrine.
It may not be much—a mere six ounces of vulcanized rubber—but it’s a symbol of the small East Asian peninsula’s first true foray into the world of hockey. And once the decades have rolled by, perhaps there will be added weight to the fact that it was a unified Korean team that made that mark.
Hyun felt bad robbing Griffin of such a valuable souvenir that she earned after years of training. But he hopes she understands.
"It's very meaningful to score the first goal, but this puck is the country's puck," he said. "She can be proud of that."
Two days after Griffin scored her landmark goal, South Korea took a shocking lead against the Czech Republic to score the men’s program’s first-ever Olympic goal. The team ended up losing 2-1, and it followed that up with a crushing 8-0 defeat to Switzerland. The men’s and women’s squads have combined for an 0-5 record so far in PyeongChang. But opponents have praised the Koreans' play.
"I think they've been doing great work these past years since they knew they were going to play in this tournament," Swedish forward Erica Uden Johansson said. "They're on the way to something good here."
And there is still plenty of hockey left to be played—at least two more games for each team.
Which means there is still time for more history to be made.