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Big Red teammates ready to take the ice on world stage

Seo Kwak ’21 and Tammy Zhu '23 headed to Poland to represent their respective countries at the IIHF Women's World Championships.

By
Brian Muldoon
December 19, 2019
Phillips Exeter Academy Girls Hockey Seo Kwak Tammy Zhu

Seo Kwak (left) and Tammy Zhu will face off against each other when South Korea and China take the ice on Jan. 8. 

Seo Kwak ’21 and Tammy Zhu ’23 will spend their winter break fulfilling a lifelong dream as they will represent their respective countries in the International Ice Hockey Federation U18 Women’s World Championship.

Zhu will return to her role as co-captain for her home country of China for the second straight year, while Kwak will make her international debut for South Korea at the championships played in Katowice, Poland, during the first week of January. The tournament will cram a lot of hockey into a short period of time, as the week will feature five games in just seven days with the weight of representing their country proudly on their shoulders.

For more information and to follow the action live, head to the IIHF website.

“Playing for my country is something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid,” said Zhu, who was chosen as a co-captain in her first go-round with the U18 Chinese national team last year as an eighth grader. “Having the experience of playing last year will help me a lot heading into this year’s championships. I was the youngest player on my team and being a co-captain meant there was a lot of responsibility to help my team play well for our country. It was really fun but also really stressful, this year I’ll be able to create a better routine and be ready for the competitive atmosphere.” 

“When you hear your national anthem being played and see your flag being raised after a win, it is emotional. They are playing your anthem because of you; they are raising your flag because of you."
Tammy Zhu

The world championships are a big stop in what Zhu hopes to be an Olympic journey. Her hometown of Beijing will be host of the 2022 Winter Olympics, and being able to don the jersey of her home country in her hometown would be the icing on the cake.

“There’s still a long way to go, but playing for the U18 team is the first step of my goal of becoming an Olympian. Playing in the Beijing Games would be really special.” 

This year, Kwak will able to taste international competition for the first time, and be further introduced to her South Korean roots.

“This will be my first time representing South Korea at any level. I came to the United States when I was only three months old, so I have never really known much about Korea or what it is like to be Korean," she said. "I am really excited about this opportunity to learn about my home country and already have a sense of belonging that I’ve never had before. I am very proud.”

The Big Red teammates have spent a lot of time together in their first year at Exeter and quickly bonded as close friends. They spent the fall playing varsity field hockey before reconvening as teammates on the ice this winter, but they will be able to add a new dimension to their friendship on Jan. 8 when China and South Korea will take the ice against each other for the final game of the tournament.

“I’m so stressed about playing her but I’m so excited for the game at the same time,” said a smiling Zhu. “Me and Seo are so tight, I love her so much and we hang out all the time, but I know whoever loses will be sure to hear about it.”

There is a lot of hockey to be played before the two square off. Kwak left for a training camp earlier this month in South Korea that will extend to just before Christmas. After the holiday, she and her teammates will fly to the Czech Republic for a series of exhibition games before arriving in Poland. Zhu will first travel to Minnesota to train with the Chinese National Team before a quick stop in Chicago to celebrate the holidays. She will then fly to Boston for a club hockey tournament before taking off for the world championships.

A restful and relaxing break? Not so much. However, the two hold a secret weapon against all the hustle and bustle: a love for hockey that Exeter head coach Sally Komarek sees every day. 

“Tammy’s enthusiasm is contagious. She is excited to compete with her teammates and get better every day. Seo has such a bubbly personality and whenever she talks about hockey, she lights up. It’s been great having her presence in the locker room. They both have a strong desire to improve and are true students of the game.”

I’m looking forward to visiting different countries, experiencing new cultures, and making friends from all over the world."
Seo Kwak

Despite the packed itinerary, the opportunity to explore and experience new places will be taken advantage of.

“I’m looking forward to visiting different countries, experiencing new cultures, and making friends from all over the world,” said Kwak. “But I’m also excited about great food! The food in Korea is awesome and I’m looking forward to trying pierogis and naleśniki when I visit Poland.”

Pancakes and dumplings aside, when it comes time for business on the ice the duo will be focused on doing what they love for their country.

“When you hear your national anthem being played and see your flag being raised after a win, it is emotional,” said Zhu who first experienced that in last year's championships when China beat the Netherlands. “They are playing your anthem because of you; they are raising your flag because of you. There is so much hard work and so much time that you put in, and when you experience that, it feels like the hard work is paying off.”