It took a North Carolinian to score Korea’s first-ever Winter Olympics ice hockey goal.
Randi Griffin, an Apex, N.C., native who was initially recruited by South Korea via email for the 2018 Winter Olympics, slipped a puck past a goaltender in the second period of a match between Japan and the unified Korean women’s hockey team Wednesday.
“I’m definitely not a hero. It was a pretty crappy shot that took a couple of bounces and happened to go into the net. I got lucky,” she told reporters after the game.
Griffin’s goal narrowed Japan’s lead to 2-1. The Japanese women went on to win 4-1, earning their first Winter Olympics victory in three appearances.
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Griffin’s goal was the highlight of the game that brought a near capacity crowd at Kwandong Hockey Centre — including a small army of North Korean cheerleaders dispatched by North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un — to its feet.
“It's a really awesome feeling to have that support,” Griffin said of the crowd. “After the goal the energy in the arena was something we were definitely feeding off. It's awesome.”
Griffin shrugged her goal off as almost accidental.
Still, “It’s good that we scored a goal in the Olympics. It’s definitely something we talked about,” she added.
“We don't want to leave the Olympics not having scored a goal,” Griffin said. “It feels great to have one under our belt.”
Wednesday’s game was the Korean team’s best. The team, comprised of 23 South Korean and 12 North Korean players, lost its first two games to Switzerland and Sweden by identical 8-0 scores.
The North and South squads were combined to symbolize the hopes of political discussions toward a unified Korea, or at least a de-escalation of tensions between South Korea and North Korea, which has aggressively ramped up its nuclear program and rhetoric against the United States.
Korea Head Coach Sarah Murray chalked up the first loss to the pressure of being the first group of North and South Korean athletes in Winter Games history to play on a single team. South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister, and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach in attended the game.
Griffin, 29, who began playing hockey in Raleigh at 10 and skated for Harvard University, said after the loss to Sweden that the unified team needed to play a simpler, disciplined game.
"We need to throw more pucks at the net and have people going hard to the net to pick up the garbage," she said Tuesday night.
They accomplished that Wednesday against their Asian arch-rival. Griffin said the game was perhaps the most meaningful for the unified team in the Olympic tournament.
“I would say the games against Japan more than anything else have been something that have brought North and South Koreans together because everyone is saying, 'We really need to win this game,'” she said.