An Interactive Sports Experience

How Much of a Factor Will Olympic-sized Ice be for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games?

Just today we witnessed a relatively surprising champion in the Under-20 IIHF World Junior Championships as Scandinavian rival Finland, was able to oust the host Team Sweden in front of a packed 13,000 in Malmo, Sweden. Canada failed to receive a medal for the second year in a row and has not won the gold medal they’ve become accustomed to winning, for the past five years. The U.S. placed a meager fifth place as they came to Malmo hoping to defend the title they so dominantly won the previous year. So then, what is the reason behind the lack of success of the North American teams when it comes to playing on the European/Olympic sized ice? Might we see the same factors coming into place for Team USA and Canada at the Sochi 2014 Olympics?

American and Canadian teams have not been consistently successful on Olympic size because of the philosophy that is rooted into their players’ development. American and Canadian ice hockey has been known to put emphasis on a lot of physicality and intimidation. This mentality in the smaller North American rinks has been proven successful by achievements such as Canada winning the 2010 gold medal in Vancouver. The last time the United States won the gold in the Olympics was the 1980 Miracle on ice team. And where was that hosted? Lake Placid, New York. Still don’t believe me? Canada’s last IIHF Under-20 World Junior championship was in 2009. The 2009 championships were hosted by none other than Canada’s capital, Ottawa. On Olympic ice in Turin (2006), Nagano (1998), and Lillehammer (1994), all the gold medals have been won by European teams. The pattern of North American struggle on European/Olympic ice is undeniable.

European players are developed with more emphasis on skating and skill rather than physicality which is not introduced into their game until they are mid teens rather than early teens. When the ice surface is larger it becomes much more difficult to intimidate someone physically because there is much more ground to cover and much more room for the opposition to maneuver. With this being said, it comes as no surprise when countries like Sweden, Finland, and Russia produce many of the NHL’s most talented players such as Pavel Datysuk, Alex Ovechkin, and the Sedin Twins. An emphasis on being able to physically intimidate is something that can be learned much easier than learning how to master skating and stickhandling. The latter approach is where the top European hockey countries have an advantage over Canada and the U.S.

Could Canada or the U.S. do very well in the Sochi 2014 Olympics? Absolutely. They bolster some of the top players in the NHL. Both teams have made adjustments to bring faster and more skilled players on the team in order to be successful in the tournament. There’s no denying that Canada and the U.S. have phenomenal rosters that have proven their high worth in the NHL; But will they be successful in unaccustomed territories?

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