For more almost 100 years, hockey has been a game of five skaters per side plus a goalie (there was actually a sixth skater knows as a rover until 1911). However, in the modern National Hockey League where referees are willing to call coincidental minors when they see them, and with the mandated four-on-four scenario in overtime, fans get to see a lot more open ice than in the past.
Players have varying takes on the open ice, but overall, enjoy the freedom it brings. While most don’t want to see four-on-four become a permanent part of the game, they enjoy the fun in the extra five minutes.
“I love four-on-four,” said Jeremy Roenick.
It is an attitude change the moment overtime begins.
“Five-on-five you try to get them to make a mistake,” said Sandis Ozolinsh. “Everybody collapses in front of the net and there are too many bodies. If you get a shot in the open slot and miss the first set of legs, there are more.”
Offensively-gifted blueliners enjoy four-on-four play almost as much as the forwards.
“There’s more room,” said Ozolinsh. “There is more puck control instead of dumping it in. Some teams even regroup in the neutral zone. You don’t see that five-on-five.”
Danger lies in the fact that the D-man jumping in creates opportunities both ways.
“If you get your defenseman jumping in, it normally creates an odd-man rush,” said Jonathan Cheechoo. “If you don’t score, the same thing can happen the other way. You can try a few more things in overtime.”
Even with the open ice, many noted playing defense was a little easier.
“Playing defense is easier, but you really have to be aware of the defensemen as much as the forwards,” said Roenick. “It’s easy to get lost with all the open ice.”
“You play more man-to-man,” said Marc-Edouard Vlasic
. “You have to work harder.”
In regulation, four-on-four is a bit different than in the five-minute overtime.
“In overtime, you play looser,” said Ozolinsh. “You’ve have the point and someone has to get the other one. You are more aggressive in trying to win. It’s a risk-reward situation.”
“You’ve already got the point,” said Vlasic. “If I can go and maybe score, I will.”
In the end, hockey is about five-on-five play to the athletes being paid to play the game.
“It’s fun for five minutes,” said Ozolinsh. “Hockey is meant to be five-on-five.”
“For my game, I like five-on-five better,” said Cheechoo. “For guys that skate really fast, maybe they’d like four-on-four better.”
To the surprise of some, even European players who grew up with the bigger ice surface (a European surface is 200-by-100 feet, while NHL rinks are 200-by85 feet) don’t necessarily like four-on-four as a possibility for an entire game.
“People would play a lot more conservative, holding onto the puck,” said Christian Ehrhoff.
For the short term though, with one point already awarded and another up for grabs, it can be the most exciting part of a game.
WORLD JR. QUALIFYING
Goaltender Timo Pielmeier is currently playing for Germany in the B Pool qualifying for the upcoming World Junior Championships. Fans can find current stats at www.iihf.com. Pielmeier was a Sharks third round selection (83rd overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
The Sharks will visit Dallas Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in a contest available on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and SJSHARKS.com.