The New York Riveters announced Wednesday that general manager Chad Wiseman had signed South Korean netminder Sojung Shin to the position for a salary of $13,500 for the season, once again looking to eastern Asia for help in the crease.
“I heard the NWHL is one of best leagues in the world,” said Shin per the league’s release. “I think the NWHL would give me a chance to develop for [the] 2018 Olympics. I’m honored to be part of New York Riveters team and excited to play in the NWHL for next season.”
Shin brings a tremendous amount of experience in net to the Riveters, particularly in international play. In university, Shin played for CIS’s St. Francis Xavier University, earning 37 wins, a goals-against average of 1.46 and a 0.944 save percentage over the course of three seasons. In 2015 she was named MVP of the women’s hockey team.
Shin has also been in the South Korean national team system since age 14, having participated and medaled in seven IIHF Women’s World Championships (Divisions II and III) since then, earning the title of Best Player of the Tournament in six of her seven appearances.
Shin has also played for the South Korean National Team at two Asian Winter Games and two IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia tournaments.
As the host country, South Korea has an automatic berth in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Although its ice hockey team has never appeared at the Olympic Games, and both men’s and women’s teams are ranked 23rd in the world by the IIHF, its guaranteed place will still generate international recognition for the NWHL.
Last year, the league experienced a nice popularity bump through working with Team Japan netminder, Nana Fujimoto, and may be looking to recreate the effect with Shin. If Shin is able to leverage her profile as successfully as Fujimoto did, New York may be able to point to her as the international face of the franchise.
In its inaugural season, Fujimoto stood in the paint for the Riveters; with her signing came a series of three games against Team Japan in December, a Japanese news crew that followed Fujimoto around and a low-level cult status in Japan itself, which spilled over from Fujimoto to her team and the league.
Fujimoto’s popularity even extended to merchandise sales. When the league revealed its 10 best-selling jerseys early in the season, Nana Fujimoto stole the number one slot, out-pacing even enormously popular women’s hockey player, Hilary Knight.
However, with the Shin signing it is clear Fujimoto will not be back with the Riveters next season in a salaried position.
It’s unlikely she will move to the U.S. for a practice player role, if that is even available for international players. Her Team Japan obligations may very well have prevented the Riveters from bringing her back on board, according to Wiseman.
Team Japan has not yet qualified for a berth at the 2018 Olympic Games. While it still has a chance to earn one of the two spots left to teams via qualifying matches, that will take a lot of time and effort, which would have prevented Fujimoto from being present for the entire 2016-17 season.
“This year they made it very clear, Team Japan, that any event they had back in Japan to get ready for the Olympics, Nana had to be there,” Wiseman said in a May interview with Along the Boards. “[Team Japan obligations] would result in [Fujimoto] probably missing a quarter of the seasons in games, and who knows how many practices.”
Shin’s goals, on the other hand, seem to dovetail with the NWHL’s aims this season.
The Riveters brought Rebecca Ruegsegger Baker on as goalie coach for the 2016-17 season earlier this week. Ruegsegger Baker consults with the South Korea women’s national team as a goalie coach and likely already has a working relationship with Shin, as well as knowledge of her strengths and weaknesses.
“Sojung is a talented goaltender and a great teammate,” Ruegsegger Baker said per the NWHL press release. “We are excited for her to join the Riveters organization and have the opportunity to compete against the top players in the world in preparation for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.”
Now, Shin will not only train with her national team’s goalie coach, she will also have access to higher-quality competition than many of her national team teammates will at home, as she will play with and against other Olympians in the NWHL.
Should Shin succeed on a bigger stage, this, in turn, will help raise Team South Korea’s profile before they take the ice at home in 2018.