Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 11/19/13 at 01:58 AM ET
The Wall Street Journal's Brian Costa spoke with Nashville Predators GM and Team USA GM David Poile and several of his likely Olympic team players about the differences between the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and those to be held in Sochi in February. He brings up one point we've already heard being discussed--the soccer-like style and pace of play that European teams tend to play on 200-foot-long by 100-foot-wide rinks (as opposed to North American rinks, which are 85 feet wide)...
The difference between Vancouver, where the U.S. won silver in 2010, and Sochi isn't so much about geography as it is space. In the U.S. and Canada, the standard rink size is 85 feet wide. In Europe, rinks are 100 feet wide. A smaller playing surface lends itself to the more aggressive, bruising style of play that dominates the NHL. On the larger European surface, it's more a game of speed and finesse.
"The difference is a lot bigger than fans think," said Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman and Team USA hopeful Paul Martin. "You have more room to cover, especially around the nets."
And he duly notes the reason why Team Canada's World Junior team now brings its own chefs to overseas tournaments, and the vast majority of players will have difficulty finding palatable food, "comfort zones" in terms of their accommodations and might deal with a bit of culture shock in Sochi, where we've been told that "there's nothing to do" at the Olympic facilities in terms of filling free time because they're still being constructed:
In Sochi, American players also will have to adapt to a different style of living, from food to sleeping quarters. David Backes, the St. Louis Blues center who played for Team USA in Vancouver, as well as in world-championship tournaments in Russia and Switzerland, said the combination of competitive and cultural differences overseas can leave players feeling out of sorts.
"I think that's the difference between success on North American soil and not a lot of success on European soil," [St. Louis Blues captain David] Backes said. "All those things combine for a little bit of adversity before you even drop the puck."
Let's just say that while the Russians are under Vladimir Putin-level pressure to hold "perfect" games, there's a reason that many European players embarking upon North American pro careers bring over someone who can cook for them as a rule--or as I've found, they find restaurants that make meals they can handle and stick with an "all out food" diet (some of the Wings' Slovak prospects have admitted that they think American food is less than appealing, and they're not alone in that regard)--and part of the "Olympic experience" even in this day and age will involve finding food at the Olympic Village that doesn't result in upset stomachs and sticking to it.
Costa also points out that one of the biggest issues for the teams will involve cohesion as no team but Canada's even tried to play "street hockey" during their summer orientation camps, and a largely NHL-sourced slate of players simply won't have "bonding time" because they'll be heading straight to Sochi from their respective workplaces instead of flying on some sort of "team plane" to the Caucasus Mountains:
"They're not even going on the same plane together," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who will coach Team USA. "They're going to step off the plane, get together, have a practice or two and play a game. It's a daunting task to come together as a team and play with any kind of chemistry as a group."
With little time to mold a team, the Americans' focus is on assembling one that is ready-made both for the bigger ice and for each other.
For one thing, that means putting a higher priority on speed and skating ability than in the past. "Even hockey smarts or hockey sense is a factor, given the fact that, spatially, it's different," Bylsma said.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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