It's finally here. Many of the world's best players have descended on Russia for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Unlike the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, games will be contested on the larger international ice surface. There has been some speculation that the larger sheet could hurt Canada and the United States, who finished first and second, respectively, on the smaller surface in Vancouver.
I'm not so sure that's the case.
Given the high-end skill of Canada and the U.S., I wouldn't be surprised to see them both play more of a North American style, just without the silly rough-and-tumble and after-the-whistle stuff we sometimes see in the NHL. Internationally, the officiating standard is much different.
I don't see why Blake Wheeler can't be more of a factor on the bigger ice. Same goes for Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. You can go down the list as far as the forwards for these teams go. I also think both teams have enough high-end skill on defense to skate the puck out, get some separation with the wider rink and maybe help the transition game as well. If the U.S. and Canada play a North American game on the bigger ice sheet it could very well be an advantage to them.
Most of these players just arrived in Sochi and I don't know if there are a lot of players who can make the adjustment to the bigger ice that quickly. I think you play to your strengths, which is speed and size and hockey IQ in both lineups. As long as you're disciplined and you don't try any stuff after the whistle, you should be fine.
Don't get me wrong, the big ice is a factor. It presents a challenge. But what do you do to meet that challenge? If I'm Ryan Getzlaf, I'm not all of a sudden changing my entire game. If I'm Zach Parise, I'm not changing my entire game because of the big ice. I think you recognize it, you make a couple of tweaks, but as far as systems and game play, Canada and the U.S. should stick to the same style.
The big ice will play a larger role on the defensive end. From a defending standpoint, when you're in your own zone you definitely can't roam. You have to be precise and decisive in your coverage. You talk about how in the NHL teams defend from the middle of the ice out. It's now more critical to do that. If an opposing forward draws you into a corner he then can work a give-and-go with a teammate. That's a prime scoring opportunity there for the opposing team. So you can't get into running around and leaving good ice. That's even more paramount on the big sheet.
More than anything I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of the high-end skill on display. Seeing Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Justin Faulk, Kevin Shattenkirk, Duncan Keith -- there are so many guys. Seeing the skill is going to be great.
More often than not our own North American coaches try to dumb the guys down, but then you watch them play internationally and see that these guys are great. They're the same guys with the same skills.
That's why this Olympic tournament is going to be so great; the greatest players showcasing their incredible skills. And despite the big international ice don't be surprised if Canadian and American teams pick up right where they left off in Vancouver.