2013-14 WJHC Preview: Big Ice, No Big Deal

Why playing on the larger ice sheet won’t hinder Canada’s under-20s at the World Junior Hockey Championships.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the European players accustomed to skating on the larger international ice surface will hold an advantage in Malmo over their North American counterparts, who cut their strides on the narrower NHL-size pads. But this isn’t clay court versus hard court. No country is more dominant by nature on a 100-foot-wide sheet than they are on one 85 feet wide.

True, adjustments must be made: Goaltenders have to be wary of stretched one-timers and the late man; long passes must be more accurate; and premiums are placed on spacing and speed. But good teams adapt—always have.

In the 1972 Summit Series, Team Canada won thrice on the big ice of Moscow’s Luzhniki Arena despite being foreign to the culture and the dimensions; conversely, the Soviets, green to the tighter NHL arenas, had a successful 2-1-1 run in Canada. Eight of Canada’s world junior gold medals have been claimed overseas, compared to the seven won in North America. The Americans, too, have won more gold medals on the big ice (two) than the small (one).

What real difference exists comes down to the players’ individual skill sets and the coaches’ ability to mask any deficiencies by pushing slower skill players to the power play and giving their faster blueliners the green light. Lightning draftee and Halifax Moosehead Jonathan Drouin, whose vision and playmaking should benefit from some elbow room, and Medicine Hat’s tenacious Hunter Shinkaruk should be as deadly on big ice as any European. And Erie Otter Connor McDavid was built for a game with less checking. The larger ice will give the 16-year-old more room to slip around players three years his senior.

Some Canadian under-20s—such as centre Bo Horvat, a big body and fierce faceoff man who has admitted skating is a weakness he’s working to improve—might face a tougher transition and, thus, shorter shifts than normal. But that’s not a situation unique to Team Canada, and ice size isn’t an excuse the favoured Canucks will call upon.

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