The big ice is making for some big decisions for the Canadian and American executives because the style of play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be different than what they're used to in North America.
The rink in Sochi will be the international standard 200-feet long by 100-feet wide. That's 15-feet wider than the NHL-size rink, which means there will be an extra 3,000 square feet of ice to cover.
"Size isn't as relevant as it would be in a small game," Canada associate coach Ken Hitchcock told NHL.com. "We're going to play against quicker players than we ever have played against before. We're going to play against players that have great agility, great one-on-one skills. We're going to see lineups that are different than we would play in North America.
"The game in Vancouver [2010 Olympics] was very much a NHL game. It felt like a NHL game and it looked like a NHL game, but it's going to be different in Europe because we're going to play against more quickness, more agility than we have ever seen in our lives."
As a result, slower players, even ones who produce offense in the NHL, will have a tougher time making the roster over quicker players who may not be producing at the same rate this season. Hitchcock said the north-south style coaches prefer in North America is not effective in Europe, so players have to be able to play an east-west game to succeed.
"In North America it takes two steps to get out of the defensive side, over there it's going to take three or four steps," Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "There is no question that skating is a huge factor. Taking care of the puck, because your ability to recover is harder, the distance is bigger, is more important. Being able to play without the puck through the neutral zone is more important. Those are focuses for us."
The United States is scheduled to announce its roster after the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1. Canada is expected to announce its roster on Jan. 7.
How the big ice factors into the decisions that are ultimately made is still unknown, but it is having a factor on this week's Olympic Stock Report. Here are the five players whose stock is up and the five whose stock is down for this week:
Wheeler has size, speed and skill. He will be able to skate the wall but also play a width game if selected by USA general manager David Poile. Wheeler was in the Stock Up section two weeks ago when he was coming off back-to-back two-goal games. He was held off the score sheet in the next two games, but has a new hot streak going now. He has six points, including four goals, in the past five games. He had another two-goal night Friday against the Minnesota Wild, and scored the overtime winner Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche.
He's 21 years old and is a top defenseman for the Hurricanes this season. He has international experience, including time in the World Junior Championship and two World Championships. Faulk moves the puck well and is a reliable defender. Sure, he has had problems on the defensive end, but he fits the mold of a young, hungry, dependable, puck-moving, puck-possession defenseman. USA coach Dan Bylsma has sung Faulk's praises in the past. Odds are he will be singing them again when Faulk is named to the team.
Neal is another player whose skill is based on his size, speed and power. He shouldn't have any problems handling the skill game in Europe. He had a three-point night in a win over the Hurricanes on Friday and followed that up with hat trick Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was a candidate for Canada prior to the season, but he was injured in the season-opener and missed more than a month. Neal has missed 20 games in total this season when factoring in his recently concluded five-game suspension, but he still has 30 points in 21 games.
It's hard to say Hall hasn't done enough to become an Olympian. He has. But is enough going to be enough to get him to Sochi? That's the tough question Canada executive director Steve Yzerman has to answer. Hall has been a top performer with 35 points in 34 games. Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins recently said his defensive game has improved. He is succeeding on a team that is 29th in the NHL. And he is a left wing, which is not a position of power for Canada. There will be Canadian centers that move to the wing. Hall might bump one of them off of the roster.
What Thornton lacks in foot speed he makes up for in hands and skill. He plays the game through the neutral zone and keeps the puck in the offensive zone. He's piling up the assists again, but should he be selected over the plethora of versatile centers? Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews will play center, but there are a number of other Canadian pivots (John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Eric Staal, Claude Giroux and, if healthy, Steven Stamkos) that could move to the wing. Thornton would seem out of place on the wing. He's a natural playmaker. He creates through the middle. He'd have to play center to make this team, but he may not be able to do it because of Canada's center depth.
Couture is very much like the versatile Canadian centers previously mentioned, except he has been ice cold for the better part of December and it has to be hurting his chances to make the Olympic team. Couture scored his first goal Sunday in 12 games. He needs to score to make Canada's roster. Canada has enough playmaking centers; it needs scoring wings. Couture likely would play on the wing if he made the team, but if he stays cold come Jan. 7 he might not hear his name called when the roster is announced.
Steen makes the Stock Down report only because he's currently out indefinitely with a concussion. If the concussion lingers, obviously his status for the Olympics will be in doubt. Even if Steen doesn't return soon it'd be a shock if Sweden didn't select him on the roster because it reserves the right to replace him before the tournament if he's injured. However, for now Steen's Olympic candidacy is in question.
The U.S. is thinnest at center, which gives Stepan an advantage to make the roster. However, he hasn't separated himself enough to be considered a lock. His possession numbers are decent, but he's been a minus player. He hasn't helped New York's struggling offense as he has only five points in the past 13 games. He's taken the most faceoffs of any American center (724), but he's won only 44.5 percent of them. The U.S. already has David Backes, Joe Pavelski and Ryan Kesler at center. Paul Stastny has played well of late and was a member of the Olympic team in 2010. Brandon Dubinsky has more points in fewer games than Stepan. He's also been better on faceoffs, albeit in fewer opportunities.
Ryan Miller is a lock. Jonathan Quick will likely be on the roster even though he's been nursing a groin injury and hasn't played since Nov. 12. The Detroit Free Press reported that Jimmy Howard will likely be the third goalie. Schneider had a chance to solidify himself as the third goalie for the USA, but couldn't do it. He had five straight starts from Dec. 4-23 in which he allowed three or more goals, including five in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. He did come back with 30 saves in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders, but one strong performance in the last month before the team is selected is just not enough.
It's almost impossible to imagine any way Holtby makes the Canadian roster now. He is struggling to hold down the No. 1 spot on his own team. Granted, the Washington Capitals have struggled in the defensive zone for most of the season, but Holtby has been the backup to Philipp Grubauer in seven of the past 10 games. He was pulled in the first period of the game Dec. 10 and gave up five goals in each of his next two starts. Canada's goaltending situation is still fluid, but Holtby has likely played himself out of the race.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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