March 21, 2011
GRAND RAPIDS — When people ask Grand Rapids Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek who he is, he tells them that he’s a Korean who also happens to be a Canadian citizen.
Now he can add one more thing: American.
Paek, 43, was officially sworn in as an American citizen March 16, a move he wanted to make since his wife, Kortney, and children, Megan and Kyler, were all born in the U.S.
“It was a great day. It was a long process to become an American citizen,” Paek said after the Griffins’ 5-3 win against Rockford on Sunday night. “That was a very special day for myself and my family. Now we’re all Americans.”
It wasn’t an easy road.
“Where do I start?” Paek said with a laugh.
Paek, who has lived in the U.S. since he was 20-year-old defenseman with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, had a green card for the past 10 years.
When that expired, he filled out paperwork to start the citizenship process. He waited, was finger-printed, waited some more, and went through a lengthy interview before he finally was sworn in.
Paek said it was a logical decision to go through the hard work of becoming a U.S. citizen.
“I live here, I want to vote, I want to have voice in this country,” he said. “My family is American and it just made sense.”
Paek doesn’t intend on forgetting where he came from. His parents, brother and sister still live in Toronto, where he was raised. But he was born in Seoul, South Korea, and still embraces those roots.
“It’s great, just life experience,” he said. “You feel very fortunate and blessed. I was able to see everything, go through every country and be a part of it.”
Now nearing the end of his sixth season with the Griffins, Paek holds the distinction of being the longest-tenured coach in franchise history.
He was the first Korean to play in the NHL, appearing in 217 career games with Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Ottawa. In 1991 and ’92 he was a member of the Stanley Cup champion Penguins. He also hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2008 after he coached the “Black Aces” during the parent club Detroit Red Wings’ championship run.
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