As the NHL prepares to send its players to the Winter Olympics for the fifth time, a pattern has emerged over the past four Games. North American teams have thrived on North American soil, while the Europeans have excelled abroad.
With this year's games hosted in Sochi, Russia, some believe that the teams from the U.S. and Canada will once again have trouble adapting, especially to the big 200-by-100-foot ice surface, which is 15 feet wider than typical NHL rinks.
European players grew up and learned the game on the big ice, but the players on Team USA won't be strangers to the dimensions or the playing style.
As Justin Bourne of Backhand Shelf points out, a good number of NCAA schools play on Olympic-size rinks, especially in the Midwest. Not coincidentally, many of this year's U.S. Olympians spent their formative years in the collegiate system, many on teams with 200-by-100-foot home-ice arenas.
Bourne points out that it takes more than just speed to play a solid game on the larger surface:
On the small sheet, you need players with great instincts who get the puck to the right areas without much deliberation. On Olympic ice, it can be alarming when you get the puck and realize you have a full second or two to figure out just what you want to do...Composed, smart players will take you further.
Here's a look at eight forwards and a defenseman from Team USA who are poised to excel on the big ice in Sochi.