Stuff of Legends: Jim Paek
Friend of The Hockey Guys, Su Ring, takes a look at the career of Jim Paek for the “Stuff of Legends” series presented by “The Hockey Guys”. We hope you enjoy our latest installment.
by Su Ring
There’s a jersey that hangs in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Its wearer did not break any records. In fact, in his five NHL seasons, he scored just 5 goals and had 29 assists for 34 points in 217 regular season games. His playoff record is even more modest: 1 goal and 4 assists for 5 points in 27 playoff games. He’s hoisted three Stanley Cups; two as a player and one as an assistant coach. His first team named him their “Rookie of the Year” in 1992. But that’s not why his jersey hangs in the HHOF. No, this man is a legend because of his birthplace, his heritage and a pair of amazing parents who broke a cultural mold to help him succeed on the ice. His given name is Chisun, but you might know him as Jim.
Jim Paek was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1967 and moved to Toronto when he was 3 years old.
Had his parents been traditional Korean parents, Jim may not have ever set foot on NHL ice. Koreans, like many traditional Asians, stress education in their children. “Grow up to be doctors or lawyers,” they urge their sons and daughters. But living in Canada, it seems that little Jimmy couldn’t resist the lure of the ice, the thwak of the puck against the boards, the clang of it ricocheting off the post, or the satisfying thud of body colliding with body in the quest for that little rubber disk. Jim laced up the skates and plunged headfirst into that obsession with 4am wakeup calls, late night practices and hours spent working up a sweat in sub-freezing temperatures. His parents stressed the importance of a good education, but they also recognized that their son had skill. So while his brothers and sisters pursued medicine and law, Jim’s parents supported his dreams of hockey, a game in which he showed good defensive skills.
Paek honed those skills with the St. Michael’s Major Midgets and St. Michael’s Buzzers, before moving up into the major juniors with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. His parents came to nearly every game, quite a feat, considering the long, grueling seasons played, even at the junior level, with lots of travel involved. During one season, his mother attended 100 of 101 games. Paek says she missed one game because she was snowed in, in Sault Ste. Marie. Another season, his parents made it to 106 of 108 games. With support like that behind him, Paek firmly set his sights on the pros.
Pittsburgh drafted him in 1985 but he didn’t actually set foot on NHL ice until the playoffs in 1991. And what an opportune time to hit the NHL. The Penguins, led by legends-in-the-making Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy and more, were on a quest for the Cup and they would not be denied. Paek joined the defensive corps, and made history by becoming the first Korean-born player to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. He repeated that feat with the Pens in 1992 and went to the finals with the Los Angeles Kings the following season, on a team that featured future legends Luc Robitaille and a guy named Gretzky. Unfortunately, that team lost to the Canadiens in the finals, 4 games to 1.
Jim Paek finished his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators in 1995, but manned the blue line in the IHL (Houston Aeros, Manitoba Moose and others), played a couple of years in England (Nottingham, to be exact) and the WCHL before turning his talents toward coaching. He’s now wrapping up his fifth season helping man the Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit’s AHL affiliate, and though he’s now more than 40 years removed from his birthplace, South Korea is not far from Paek’s hockey-loving heart. He was the inspiration for the Jim Paek Hockey League and hockey store of the same name. Hockey is still not as popular in Southeast Asia as it is in North America and Europe, but the Asian Hockey league continues to chug along, with teams from Korea, Japan and China battling it out. In fact, a Korean team (Anyang Halla) won the Asia League championship in January; the first non-Japanese team to clinch the title since the league began.
One season after trading Paek to the Kings, the Penguins drafted the second Korean-born player from the Belleville Bulls of the OHL. Today, you can find Bang-Su (better known as Richard) Park sporting in the blue, orange and white of the New York Islanders; a seasoned veteran on a team bursting with young prospects. Jim Paek continues to help hone players in Grand Rapids; in a style described as gruff, yet thoughtful. And in South Korea, more boys are trading dreams of baseball stardom, to dreams of seeing their names engraved on a shiny silver cup, maybe because of names like Gretzky and Lemieux… but more so because of this name: Paek.
Follow Su Ring on Twitter: @DailySu