GANGNEUNG, South Korea — When South Korea tracked down a loose puck, the crowd cheered.
When they gained possession near the net of their opponent, Canada, the crowd roared.
A shot on goal? They went absolutely wild.
The puck never did go into the net — Canada beat South Korea, 4-0 — but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm for the South Korean hockey team, including Vail's Mike Testwuide, who plays forward for the team, Sunday night.
"They're behind us every step of the way, no matter what," he said. "We're down and out, and they're still giving it."
Testwuide, 31, grew up in Vail, played college hockey at Colorado College and spent a few seasons in the American Hockey League before coming to South Korea to play in the Asia League in 2013.
National team coach Jim Paek approached Testwuide and asked him if he would be interested in gaining dual citizenship ahead of the Olympics in order to play for South Korea. Testwuide was one of seven North Americans to gain citizenship — after a rigorous test that included national history and singing the national anthem — and make the South Korean roster.
"It's been amazing," Testwuide said. "Any time you can be an Olympian and be on this stage — you can't really describe it. It's what every athlete dreams of. Being here is something special."
The national team has come a long way since Testwuide arrived in South Korea five years ago, but the Olympic results haven't been quite what the team had hoped for. In the Games, the South Korean team was winless, losing 2-1 to the Czech Republic, 8-0 to Switzerland, 4-0 to Canada and 5-2 to Finland on Tuesday in the play-offs.
"All tournament we haven't had any finish," he said after the Canada game. "Usually we squeak one or two in there and we change the dynamic of the game, but we're having a tough time scoring goals. But we're playing really pesky hockey. I think teams are pretty respectful of what we're doing out there."
Testwuide's support extends beyond the Korean citizens in the stands. There was a sizeable contingent of friends and family from the Vail Valley — about 20 people — cheering him on, including mom Janet, dad Paul and brother J.P.
"It's been pretty astonishing to see him sacrifice a lot of time and a lot of effort on this journey," said J.P. Testwuide, Mike's older brother and frequent teammate as they were growing up. "His team has performed amazingly. It's been really, really fun to watch not only him compete but the Koreans compete on the international stage. I can't say enough about it. It's been phenomenal l too watch."
J.P Testwuide, who played hockey at the University of Denver and professionally in the AHL and Central Hockey League, noted that countries like the USA and Canada have hundreds of thousands of kids in youth development leagues. Korea has just several thousand.
"I'm in awe of how they're able to compete at this level and not get blown out in games," J.P Testwuide said. "They're legitimate and competitive. It's really neat."
Mike Testwuide marched in the Opening Ceremonies with the unified Korean team on Feb. 9.
"Anytime you can walk in the opening ceremonies in your host country, it's pretty special, and then last minute they threw the two Koreas together as a united front," he said. "You have to just take it as a positive. … It's going to hopefully unite the country and bring everyone together. That's what sports are for, is to bring everybody together."
Since he came to the Asia League, Testwuide has played for Anyang Halla and High1 in the winter while returning to Vail in the summer. He's not certain how much longer he will stay in South Korea.
"This summer, I'm just going to reassess things," he said. "I don't have a contract for next year, so I'll see where I want to go from there."