Team USA hasn’t fared well on the larger European ice surface in recent years, as evidenced by the lack of a medal in both the 2006 Olympics in Turin and the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.
For the first time since 2006, the Olympic hockey tournament will take place on the full 200-by-100 foot international ice, which is 15 feet wider than the NHL rinks players are accustomed to skating on. There’s more space to work with, more time to make an extra play and different angles to prepare for.
“I don’t want to overplay it as a huge, huge factor. It’s something we have to adapt to,” U.S. General Manager David Poile said. “It’s not going to be a factor as to whether we win or don’t win.”
It is something that’s being factored into how USA Hockey officials assemble the team for Sochi, though. Poile and Coach Dan Bylsma have talked about the importance of speed and need for patience on the larger ice surface. But they don’t want to rob the team of its aggressive identity either.
Most players in attendance at the Olympic orientation camp Monday and Tuesday at KCI have competed on international sized rinks at some point in their career and are somewhat familiar as to the individual adjustments they must make.
“There’s times that on NHL [ice] you make a move and take a shot and you think it’s a good scoring chance,” said Chicago winger Patrick Kane, who received a refresher course in the wider ice while playing in Switzerland during the lockout.
On international ice “it’s a little bit farther away and you almost don’t have to shoot from that angle, you can make a better play,” Kane said. “I think it’s very important and something you’re going to have to adjust to and get used to.”
But as forwards and defensemen alter their games to fit the larger ice, goaltenders too must prepare for how the skaters around them change their approaches. Ryan Miller explained that netminders must learn to expect shots from different locations while adjusting to the perspective and reads when there’s more space all around them.
“Where guys are releasing the puck and what kind of plays they’re looking for change,” Miller said. “The boards are further to your left or right but the paint’s in the same spot, so you’re going to feel like you’re drifting a bit. You’re going to feel like you’re giving up too much net to the short side but you’re probably giving up the whole center of the net. It’s an awareness thing.”