Canada aims to fare better on bigger surface in Sochi

Monday, 07.22.2013 / 7:07 PM
Connor Mellas  - Staff Writer

Steve Yzerman said he will be considering all factors when it comes to narrowing down his Olympic squad, including the larger size of the international rink.

Hockey Canada released the roster for the Canadian Men's National Team orientation camp Monday, and the list features a total of 47 players: five goaltenders, 17 defensemen and 25 forwards. While the camp roster is large, the list must be reduced to 25 players (three goaltenders, 22 skaters), before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

"Ultimately, we're going to simply pick the best players available to us, but I think playing on a bigger ice surface, I believe there is a priority and importance in being able to get around the ice to skate," said Yzerman, the executive director of Canada's squad and the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

NHL rinks measure 85 feet wide by 200 feet long, but Olympic rinks are 15 feet wider. That will play a role in how Yzerman builds the team.

"So that weighed into our decision, or will weigh into our final decision, about putting this team together," Yzerman said. "There will be more of a premium placed on skating."

Canada won gold at the 2010 Olympics on an NHL-size surface in Vancouver, but failed to medal the previous time the Olympics were in Europe, finishing eighth in Turin, Italy in 2006. Yzerman said he believes that with an increased emphasis on speed and mobility, Canada will fare better overseas in 2014.

"I can't really comment. I wasn't there, on anything logistical, the problem of getting over there or being in Europe or what not, but I just felt that that team needed more speed," Yzerman said of the 2006 squad. "Both on the back end and up front, they needed more skating."

Of the 17 defensemen invited to orientation camp, there are nine right-handed shooters. Ideally, righties and lefties are paired together, but Yzerman said finding those matches may not be a huge priority for Canada.

"I do like the idea of having a right and left together, but I don't think it's the end-all," he said. "Ultimately, the two guys who are playing the best will go out there, and of the eight defensemen we have, I can't guarantee there will be four right and four left.

"But I do believe there are advantages in having rights play with lefts in the game, but on the bigger ice maybe a little bit less. There's more time for them to get a pass off, but again, it won't be the final factor, but it does come into our game plan."

The average age of the players on the roster for Canada's orientation camp is 27 years, six months and 25 days. There is a strong influx of youth now in the mix, and finding a balance between young talent and experience will be a challenge for Yzerman.

"You can debate whether you want the young legs or the veteran experience," Yzerman said. "Generally, I've found that over the course of my time and playing, whether it's Stanley Cup Playoffs or international events, in these big games a lot of those veteran guys are the guys you rely on.

"Ultimately, we want to put the best team on the ice, but there is value -- great value -- in having that veteran leadership. But having said that, we've got to make room for some of the younger players to come in."

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