Team Canada preps for larger ice surface at camp
Steve Yzerman still remembers what it was like in Nagano in
1998, the first Olympics with NHL players and an example of
Canadian failure on the bigger, international-sized ice
The time-honored strategy of dumping the puck in and
forechecking didn’t work.
”You can spend a lot of time skating places and getting there
just a second late, taking yourself out of the play,” said
Yzerman, now Canada’s general manager. ”It is a different
It was a different game at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, too, when
Canada finished seventh thanks to a lack of offense and speed and
the wrong mix of talent for the 200-by-100-foot rink.
San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle viewed from the stands as
his teammates struggled.
”It was tough to watch, it was frustrating,” Boyle said.
”Even though every player on that team deserved to be there and
was great, sometimes you need certain things and that’s where
different guys come into play. I just thought we lacked some
Eight years removed from that debacle and four years after
winning Olympic gold in Vancouver on NHL-sized 200-by-85-foot ice,
Team Canada is determined to learn from what went wrong without
abandoning its style. As players gathered this week here for a
camp, ice size has been a buzz worthy topic.
”One of the critical things is to continue to play the Canadian
game and not adjust to some of the spaces that suddenly arise,”
coaching consultant and former Edmonton Oilers coach Ralph Krueger
said. ”But you need to make sure that you don’t change your game
or make too many adjustments that will weaken what makes Canada
What makes Canada strong, Yzerman and the coaching staff hope,
is speed and agility. Perhaps that’s part of what the 2006 group
Judging by the comments of those in charge of making up the 2014
roster, it doesn’t sound like that’ll be a problem this time
around, even if it’s at the expense of some players who won gold
four years ago.
”The biggest lesson is foot speed, for all players. You have to
be able to skate and you have to be able to move the puck,” Oilers
president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe said. ”The team will be
made up of players who can skate, think and move the puck. There
could be a number of changes form the gold medal team in
From the standpoint of piecing the team together, Canada learned
from its folly in Turin that bringing back the majority of a team
that just won gold – in that case the 2004 world championship –
doesn’t always work. Turnover is to be expected because Yzerman
wants a team built for big ice.
Of course it’s not as simple as picking 22 speedsters.
”We’re not just going to take the 14 fastest forwards and the
eight fastest defensemen,” Yzerman said. ”Hockey sense is
probably the most important aspect a guy can have, particularly
playing at a really high level, playing with good players around
If it were all about speed, Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers,
Marty St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Kris Letang of the
Pittsburgh Penguins would be locks.
”I think I’d be a great player on big ice,” Hall said. ”I’ve
always felt that the big ice would certainly be good for my kind of
game. Hopefully they see that, too. I think they’re going to really
determine their team on what it’s like to play on big ice.”
Boyle, who played in Sweden during the 2004-05 lockout, knows
it’s about more than just racing up and down the ice.
”You’ve got to be able to skate, but your angles are a little
bit different,” he said. ”Whether you’re a forward or defenseman,
I think the angling out there is a little bit different.”
That’s where hockey sense comes in. Because of the high cost of
insurance, coach Mike Babcock had to get creative, putting players
through ball-hockey walkthroughs on a boarded-up
international-sized rink at Canada’s Olympic Park. What that
exercise allowed players to see was the amount of space they’ll
have to work with.
Having experience on big ice could be valuable, especially for
defensemen. Marc Methot of the Ottawa Senators represented Canada
at the world championships in 2012 and 10 players from the 2013
team are at camp.
”The game’s completely different,” Methot said. ”Showing that
you can keep up and defend properly on that big ice surface is
huge. It’s an advantage I have, and I’m hoping that it’ll help me