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

surface.

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

game.”

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

things.”

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

strong.”

What makes Canada strong, Yzerman and the coaching staff hope,

is speed and agility. Perhaps that’s part of what the 2006 group

was lacking.

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

Vancouver.”

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

you.”

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

out.”