GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Goalie Matt Dalton basically had a cup of coffee with the Boston Bruins – he only ever played 22 games for the Bruins’ minor-league team.
But when you Google his name, he’s wearing a Boston Bruins jersey in the picture that comes up next to his bio.
“I didn’t know that,’’ he said Saturday.
“Great. I wish I would have been able to spend more time there than I did,’’ he said.
The picture really ought to show him in a Korean hockey sweater and helmet, because that’s where for the last several years he has made much more of a name for himself, first as one of the leaders of Anyang Halla in Asia League Ice Hockey, and now at the Olympics.
A Canadian by birth, Dalton is one of several foreign players recruited to join both the Asian pro league and the Korea team for the Olympics. He became a Korean citizen in 2016 in order to suit up for the national team.
He’s become beloved here, where he started in goal Saturday and was cheered for every one of his 22 saves before he was lifted in the third period of an 8-0 loss to Switzerland. Many fans wore Anyang Halla jerseys, and most were glued to the game even though Korea struggled from the start. Every Korean rush brought a rise from the crowd, and every time Dalton rescued a leaky defense, they cheered for the man they’ve dubbed “Hallasung,’’ – loosely translated as “Halla’s Fort Knox,’’ according to his PyeongChang 2018 athlete profile.
“Just for us to be here is something that they appreciate, and something that they’re happy about,’’ he said. “If you had asked them 10 years ago, I don’t think they would ever expect us to be here. The fans have been great. Obviously I wish we would have had a little bit better effort for them tonight, but it’s a learning experience for us every time we play these top-level teams.’’
Dalton hopes his presence in Korea, and Korea’s team in the Olympics, helps grow the game here.
“I hope it gains interest. I hope more kids want to start playing, I hope there’s more youth programs. Because that’s where it all starts is with the kids. If they can get more kids playing, as they get older it improves the professional and things like that,’’ he said.
Dalton is setting a good example. He’s been the league’s top goalie for three seasons.
The opportunity to play in the Olympics means the world to him, even if it’s for a nation far away from where he started playing hockey.
“It’s special. Someone asked me that the other night after the game and it kind of just hit me, and it was like ‘wow, I just did that,’’’ he said. “It’s hard to explain to people. If you would have asked me 10 years ago I would have never thought I’d be in this opportunity. So just trying to enjoy it. It’s a lot, it’s a whirlwind, especially if it’s your first time trying to handle it.’’
Korea lost both of its preliminary games. The third prelim was against Canada.
“That’s the team I grew up cheering for my whole life, so it’s exciting. They’re a great team. We played them in Moscow in December, so we’ve seen them a little bit. They’re obviously I think a little better now than they were then, but it’s going to be a hard game. Looking forward to it, though,’’ he said.