-- How do you like your ice? Not surprisingly, there was a definitive school of thought on the matter at the Molson World Hockey Summit Monday, where one of the hot stove sessions compared and contrasted both the North American and European games.
The panel, which featured Ottawa Senators
captain Daniel Alfredsson
, retired goalie turned broadcaster Glen Healy and Toronto-based radio host Bob McCown, discussed the big-ice, small-ice conundrum, the role of fighting and the possibility of forming a Champions' League setup that would pit the best North American club teams against the best club teams from Europe.
The size of the ice surface and the pro and cons for each option dominated the session's discussion, however.
Alfredsson, who grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden, encapsulates the argument about whether the game is more suited for the NHL ice surface, which is 200 feet by 85 feet, or the European surface, which is 15 feet wider.
Alfredsson started his career on the larger ice surface, but has played a good portion of his pro career with the Senators.
"I like the small rink because it suits my style," Alfredsson said from Monday night's session at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But that was not always the case. Alfredsson grew up believing that the larger surface helped him develop the skills that made him a professional.
"You develop your skating and your puck-handling skills on the bigger surface," Alfredsson said. "You just kind of have a more all-around game."
Yet, even the most ardent supporters of the North American game see the limitations of the smaller rink, especially with the size of today's players.
McCown says NHL rinks were originally built for players who averaged 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds. Today, the average player is closer to 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Simply put, McCown says the North American rinks limit the ability of today's players to showcase their skills. He suggests a transitional period -- spanning several decades -- in which all NHL rinks adopt the European dimensions. He argues that the "Original Six" NHL teams underwent a similar process to get to the current 200-by-85 option used today.
Opinions were just as split on the issue of fighting, which is not only tolerated by sacrosanct throughout many of the North American leagues, while being deeply frowned upon in Europe. Alfredsson recalled his first training camp with Ottawa and seeing players fight even before the puck was dropped in a scrimmage.
"I was so surprised to see guys fight," Alfredsson said. "I wondered why they were so mad."
Now, into his second decade as a NHLer, Alfredsson is no longer surprised by the dustups that take place in the NHL.
"It serves a purpose and it has for a long time," Alfredsson said.
Healey also came down on the pro-fighting side, although he did note that he was 0-for-6 in fights during his career.
McCown, meanwhile, urged the NHL to move into lockstep with other major North American sports, which not only eject those who fight, but force them to face the possibility of additional discipline, be it fines or suspensions.
The Champions' League concept, based on the highly successful tournament now used to crown the European club champion in soccer, was a far more nebulous prospect for the panel. It was hard for any on the panel to imagine a future in which the top teams from the NHL would face the champions of the various European domestic leagues in a winner-take-all tournament to determine the best club team -- as opposed to national team -- in the world.
Alfredsson would love to see European clubs go toe-to-toe with NHL clubs to determine the best team, but it has to be in the proper format.
"It has to be meaningful," Alfredsson said. "It can't be one game before the season starts. It has to be a tournament that means something. If it is, it will definitely help the game and it is something to strive for."
Certainly, if there is a way to make it work, the possibilities are virtually endless.
As session moderator Paul Romanuk, a Canadian writer and TV presenter who has spent the past several years in Europe, noted, soccer's Champions' League has moved from a left-for dead idea upon its inception more than a decade ago to the most prestigious and lucrative club soccer competition in the world.