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May 03, 2016

Richard Park

Ever wonder how a kid born in Korea goes on to play in the National Hockey League?

Born in Seoul, South Korea, the Park family moved to California when Richard was three years old.. It wasn't until the age of seven that Park had ever strapped on a pair of skates. As the little boy stumbled across the ice during the public skating session, another little boy asked Richard if he wanted to play hockey.

"He asked me if I wanted to play hockey, so I said, 'Sure, why not.' I didn't know what the sport was." said Richard.

Once he discovered the game, he was instantly hooked.

"I had to go try it. I fell in love with it."

Playing hockey as a kid in California at that time was different. Park actually played on a pee-wee team that took him all over the country to play in tournaments.

As Park travelled all over playing tournaments, he caught the eye of several scouts. The small but slick skater got an invitation to move to Ontario to play for the Toronto Young Nationals team at the age of 13! Imagine a 13 year old leaving home to pursue a hockey dream? We don't know many Canadians who'd do that, let alone a California Korean!

Park's parents agreed to let Richard go when his older sister agreed to move with him. Christina Park, a 19 year old figure skater at the time, decided to attend school in the Toronto area. She served as Richard's legal guardian.

"I owe everything to my family," said Park "(Christina) probably made the biggest sacrifice a person can make, give up your life in L.A. to go to a foreign town."

It was a great move for Richard though. He not only excelled with Canadian boys who had played the game from a much earlier age, but he excelled. He excelled so much that he was drafted by the Ontario Hockey League's Belleville Bulls.

Richard enjoyed 3 full seasons with the Bulls, proving to be a fast skating and strong playmaking center. He also twice represented the United States in the World Junior Championships. Despite concerns about his size and ability to play in heavy traffic, Richard's high skill level attracted the Pittsburgh Penguins, who made the center their 50th overall draft selection in 1994.

Park went on to an impressive career. He would play in 738 career NHL games, most notably with the Minnesota Wild and New York Islanders. He also played four seasons in Europe. Speaking of the international game, four times he represented the United States at the World Championships, winning a bronze medal in 2004.

Not bad for a kid from Korea.

By the way, Richard wasn't the first Korean born player in NHL history. That honor goes to Jim Paek, a former Penguin, King and Senator defenseman.

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