By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
As a boy from Seoul, South Korea, David Min was a competitor. His older brother served as his chief rival growing up. It led him to play hockey and he now will cultivate the next generation of players as a youth coach for the Seattle Kraken’s hockey teams this fall.
“It was as simple as me having a crazy competitive edge,” said Min of his interest in the sport. Min followed his brother who started playing hockey in South Korea.
“I just wanted to be cooler and better than him,” Min joked. “For me, it (skating) was always fun,” Min reflected on the most important parts of hockey. “I never thought it was hard.” He recalls that when his brother and mother went to British Columbia to scout places to relocate, they brought back a bunch of hockey equipment for the boys and Min was sold on the sport.
As a 5-year-old, Min flew by himself from South Korea to British Columbia to meet his older brother and his mother, who found a home in their new country. His father was still working in South Korea at that time.
Not knowing English, Min had no way of communicating with the outside world in his new home except through hockey.
“I didn’t know how to speak, I didn’t know how to read, but I did know how to play hockey.” Time on the ice helped him navigate the new culture that was so different from where he grew up. When he was 7, he could tell that people liked him when they gave him fist-bumps on the ice. This was common ground as he continued to learn English and encouraged him to get better.
While living in Canada, he did not go to school in B.C. but went to the golf course, the hockey rink, and he watched SpongeBob at home. Through the outside world, he learned English through sports.
When Min’s family moved to the United States, he moved to Bellevue, Washington where he enrolled in the second grade. In testing his English, his school asked if he took an English as a Second Language Program, since he was proficient in the language. But he said that he learned it from hockey. While in Bellevue, he played hockey with Sno-King Amateur Hockey on the Eastside.
After he retired from competitive hockey, he returned to coach there the last 4 years.
He went to Eastgate Elementary School, Tilliculm Middle School, and Newport High School. In his junior year in high school, he left home and went to Valencia, California to play for a club team.
Min didn’t have resources as a kid to find opportunities to play with hockey clubs. Fortunately, he was approached by individuals and received help from his older brother. He was offered a chance to play hockey in 8th grade at a prep school that would require him to move away from home. But Min wanted to wait. When he moved to Valencia, he lived with a host family.
Hockey is not a cheap sport for those that want to play. There is a lot of equipment that a player must have and Min’s family experienced financial challenges, which made paying for things a burden.
“I recalled two years in a row, my mom sat me down before hockey season started and asked, ‘Do you really want to play?’” The question was due to the family’s limited resources and the financial burden the sport would put on them. “I could sense and feel the struggle.”
Min stated that some hockey clubs and teams have ‘slush funds’ or scholarships to help people who could not afford equipment. He recalls that at Sno-King, he was able to play for free due to receiving a scholarship.
As he got older, he was more empathetic about the money issues and his parents realized that he had a passion for the sport.
“I think they knew that any financial obstacles that I was presented with, I proved to them that I overcame them and became stronger.” He added, “I think they were willing to take the risk.”
Min played in Valencia, then went on to Banff Hockey Academy in Alberta, Canada. From there, he went to Iowa, where he won the national North American Tier III League with the North Iowa Bulls. “They were unbelievable opportunities,” Min said of his time playing.
As one of the few Asian individuals on the ice, he has received his share of racist remarks.
“As I was younger, it was much more ice cream cones and rainbows,” Min said of his junior hockey time. “[B]ut when you get older, it’s just not on the ice, but off the ice, like at school you start to hear stuff.”
“You tend to stick out when you don’t look like everyone else,” Min said. “Unfortunately, when it happens on the ice, you feel it a little more. I’m sure that there are many others that face it more frequently and to a higher degree. I was fortunate that I was not one of those. But it wasn’t all great.”
Min said that the Seattle area has already had a presence of hockey and maybe it catered toward those that were familiar with the sport or had a familial presence. He noted before the NHL, the rinks were full and the programs grew large. With the Kraken, it will expand even more.
“I never thought the opportunity would be in front of my face,” he said of his position with the Kraken. “At the time, I was planning to move to Finland.” Min was accepted to a school for coaching hockey and wanted to further his education in coaching. However, he received a phone call from the Kraken and he jumped at the chance to be a part of its Youth Development Team.
His responsibility is to build the grassroots program and make the sport accessible to all. He will be working with the NHL ‘Learn to Play’ Programs and 8U, 10U, and 12U age groups that will participate in the Metropolitan Hockey League. He will be teaching adult clinics as well. The programs will take place at the Northgate Kraken Training Facility.
For more information, visit nhl.com/kraken/community/youth-hockey.
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.