Korean adoptee Bree Doyle returns to play ice hockey for her birth country

August 9, 2014
Bree Doyle, who was adopted by a U.S. family when she was a baby, returned to Korea in June to represent her birth country as a hockey player.  (Korea Times photo by Nam Hyun-woo)

Bree Doyle, who was adopted by a U.S. family when she was a baby, returned to Korea in June to represent her birth country as a hockey player. (Korea Times photo by Nam Hyun-woo)

By Nam Hyun-woo

Representing one’s country as an athlete is a great honor, but for American Bree Doyle, it could mean even more. The Korean adoptee wants to play for the country where she was born.

“My dream as a hockey player has always been playing at the highest level. As someone born in Korea and raised in the U.S., I think it’s an honor and privilege to play for Korea, which is my birth country, and that’s something very special,” the 30-year-old told The Korea Times last week at the Korea University Ice Rink in Seongbuk District, Seoul.

Doyle was working as a pharmacist in San Francisco,  but she said becoming a member of the national hockey team would enable her to pursue her neglected passion.

“Hockey is my No. 1 passion. I’ve always wanted to play the highest level of hockey possible,” she said. “In life, you want to be happy and do something that makes you happy and, for me, hockey is that something.”

Born in Gangwon Province, she was adopted by a U.S. family four months after her birth. She began figure skating when she was 3 years old and started to play hockey two years later, following in the footsteps of her older brother.

She was a prominent goaltender for NCAA’s Niagara University and the State University of New York Plattsburgh.

From 2004 to 2007, she appeared in 70 games for Plattsburgh, recording a 1.26 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. In her senior year, she had seven shutouts in 23 games. But she did not continue her athletic career after college.

What reignited her interest in the sport was a Facebook posting about a tryout for new players for the Women’s Ice Hockey Summer League Korea.

“It was an opportunity. If I didn’t take it, I would always look back and regret,” she said.

She arrived in Korea on June 25 and passed the tryout as a defensive player, not her previous position of goalie. She is now playing for the country’s only women’s league as a member of the Ice Avengers.

The summer league is organized by the Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA) which uses it to scout potential national team members. Since there is not a single professional or semi-professional team for female ice hockey players, the KIHA divides those who passed the tryout and players registered to the association into three teams they created — the Phoenix, Ice Avengers and Ice Beat. They play four games against each other.

Skaters who are highly rated in the league will be called up for the “interim” national team, which will play in friendly matches against a Sapporo draft team from Japan later this month.

Since Doyle has not yet regained Korean citizenship, she cannot represent Korea officially and cannot play in next year’s International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) Ice Hockey World Championship.

The IIHF only allows athletes to represent their country in such competitions if they are registered with the country’s association for more than a year prior to the event. If the necessary steps are taken quickly, Doyle can officially represent Korea as early as September of next year and compete in the 2016 World Championship. She said she will apply for citizenship as soon as possible.

According to a KIHA official, Doyle could a “valuable asset” for Korea, where women’s hockey is a non-mainstream and unpopular sport.

“Korea lacks a quality defense player. She has great skating skill, power and overlapping abilities, so she will be doing great in her new role,” said the official.

During Tuesday’s game, she proved that belief true.

In the game against the Ice Beat, she drew exclamation from KIHA officials and a handful of fans at the ice rink with her powerful plays and assisted in her side’s 2-0 shootout victory after a 1-1 tie. Another official said of her, “You can’t see such playing in Korea.”

Doyle also expressed her contentment in her new position.

“At college, I never thought I would play competitive hockey again, so I didn’t play hockey for a couple of years. I’m happy to play defense,” she said.

Doyle also highly evaluated her teammates, saying, “They are an amazing bunch of girls. It’s interesting to see how driven, hard-working and dedicated they are. They are striving to be the best players they can be. It’s good to see them work.”

Along with her journey to pursue her passion, she also wants to find her birth parents, although it will be challenging given the lack of information available.

In May, Doyle, whose Korean name is Lee Eun-mi, contacted her adoption agency, but only obtained basic information.

“I’ve always been curious about why I was put up for adoption, what (my birth parents) look like, what they do or if I have other siblings. It’s like wondering about what would my life have been like in Korea,” she said.