By Glae Thien
Special ToThe San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN DIEGO – He’s a Southern California native who grew up playing ice hockey. In doing so, the Gulls’ Alex Kim also became one of the few pro players of Korean ancestry.
Kim sees himself as someone looking to climb the ranks in his fourth full season as a pro. For the Gulls, he’s known as a standout who leads the team in average points per game.
“I just try to work hard and plug away, finishing all the opportunities that occur during the course of a game,” said Kim, 26, of Fullerton. “You can only control the things that you can control. Some nights, you’re not going to have it. If you’re not good offensively, then you have to be good defensively.”
Kim, a center who signed with the Gulls on Nov. 21, had 12 goals and 15 assists in 18 games before he was sidelined by a broken collarbone. He has since dedicated himself to his recovery in hopes of returning in about four weeks.
As a youth, Kim counted himself among those caught up in the enthusiasm generated by the arrival of Wayne Gretzky with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. Kim even appeared with some youth teammates on the ice in the background of a soft-drink commercial featuring the Great One.
Kim first visited a rink when he went along with his older sister, Michelle, while she took figure skating lessons. After Kim started skating by himself, a youth hockey coach noticed and introduced him to the game before he turned 6.
Perhaps it was destined that Kim would develop into a skater recognized for his speed. His grandmother, Hyun Chae, was a speed skater for a Korean national team.
“Alex has probably the quickest feet I’ve ever seen,” said the Gulls’ Kelly Askew, who has known Kim for years living in Orange County. “He’s unbelievably quick. When he combines his skating and his puck-handling skills, he can put together point streaks.”
Kim extended his career-best point streak to 12 games on the night he was injured.
Along with hockey, Kim participated in five other sports while growing up. At Sunny Hills High in Fullerton, he also played basketball and tennis but still favored the varied aspects of hockey.
“There’s a lot more finesse and skill involved than people realize,” Kim said. “Some people think it’s a brutal sport. Granted, it’s a very tough sport, but it’s tough in the aspect of skill as well.”
Kim played college hockey at Miami (Ohio) University for two years and Colorado College for two more before launching his pro career in the old West Coast Hockey League and then going to the ECHL.
His most productive season came in 2003-04, split between Peoria and Long Beach, when the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder had 27 goals and 27 assists in 67 games.
Kim played for the Rockford (Ill.) IceHogs in the United Hockey League last season under former Gulls coach Steve Martinson. But he opted to return to the ECHL this season because it’s more of a developmental league with players commonly recalled to the American Hockey League.
Since Kim is playing close to home this season, his father, Kae, and mother, Bo, have been able to attend games at ipayOne Center.
“Alex’s been blossoming this season,” Kae Kim said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Kim came to the Gulls with no communication between the club and Martinson. Still, Gulls coaches saw his potential.
“We knew he was going to bring a lot to the table,” Gulls associate coach Jamie Black said. “He plays on the power play and the penalty kill. He brings tremendous assets to this team.”
Kim said he would welcome the chance to compete for Korea in international competition, but he can’t because the team doesn’t recognize dual citizenship. In another respect, though, he acknowledges that he still represents his ancestral home.
“It’s evident that I do stick out because there aren’t too many Asians on the ice,” Kim said. “So it’s different. But I’d rather be known as just a hockey player.”
A good one, as far as the Gulls are concerned.