Rink size can be big fac­tor at Games

In­ter­na­tional-sized ice is 15 feet wider than in NHL, NCAA.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Stephen Whyno

If an Olympic hockey coach com­ing from North Amer­ica tried to im­i­tate Gene Hack­man in “Hoosiers” and took a tape mea­sure to the rinks in South Korea, it wouldn’t add up. In­ter­na­tional-sized ice is 15 feet wider than rinks used in the NHL, Amer­i­can Hockey League and NCAA — 100 feet com­pared to 85 — and that’s more than enough to change ev­ery­thing.

“It’s to­tally dif­fer­ent: two dif­fer­ent sports,” said Hen­rik Sedin, who won the 2006 Olympic gold medal with Swe­den on the larger ice. “You can have play­ers that are good in the NHL but they can’t play on the big­ger ice, and then you have guys the other way around where they re­ally suc­ceed on the big ice but when they come over here, they can’t play. It’s a dif­fer­ent sport.”

Big ice makes a big dif­fer­ence where goals are at a premium and five-man de­fen­sive units can make the outer edges of the rink feel like a dis­tant planet. Go­ing to the 200by-100 in­ter­na­tional ice is a (far-fetched) idea some have sug­gested might in­crease scor­ing in the NHL, but Slo­vak Olympic coach Craig Ram­say re­calls play­ing for the Buf­falo Sabres against the New York Rangers on the big sheet in Lake Placid, New York, and the qual­ity of play and of­fense did not match ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions.

“It was a hard game be­cause peo­ple would be more than will­ing to beat you (wide), but now they’re 50 feet from the net in­stead of 40, and there’s a big dif­fer­ence,” Ram­say said. “The (de­fense­men) are smart and can push you a lit­tle bit wider, (and) your an­gles are not nearly as good, and the goal­tender now can cut down that an­gle, and it’s not as easy to score as peo­ple think.”

Canada scored just six goals in its three medal-round games in win­ning gold in Sochi in 2014, one of four Olympics fea­tur­ing NHL play­ers on in­ter­na­tional ice. Canada also won in 2002 on big ice and in 2010 when the In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion al­lowed for NHL-sized rinks to use the ones al­ready in place in Van­cou­ver.

In Sochi, Canada coach Mike Babcock em­ployed Ralph Krueger as his big-ice con­sul­tant, and it paid off, with North Amer­i­can NHL play­ers tai­lor­ing their game to the style of play.

“You kind of just have to shrink the ice down a lit­tle bit,” said Jamie Benn, who won gold with Canada in Sochi. “We were chang­ing lit­tle things on the ice to try and get an ad­van­tage with the big ice. You def­i­nitely have more time and more space, but in the end it’ll al­ways come back to the mid­dle of the ice.”

The fear for NHL play­ers from the U.S. and Canada has al­ways been get­ting caught on the out­side on the big ice. That should be less of a con­cern this time around with ros­ters largely made up of play­ers cur­rently skat­ing on in­ter­na­tional-size ice in Europe. The U.S. has 15 play­ers and Canada has 20 who are based in Euro­pean pro­fes­sional leagues, which was very much by de­sign.

“That is an ad­van­tage from a stand­point that they know the an­gles,” U.S. coach Tony Granato said.

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