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Talk of the Games

The medal standings tell only part of the sports story of what's happening at the Games. For the rest, check out the latest dispatches from The Seattle Times' sports crew of columnists, reporters and producers.

February 17, 2010 at 2:32 PM

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NHL rink helps NHL players adjust

Posted by Bob Condotta

One big difference in the hockey competition at this year's Olympics is the size of the rink.

Usually, the Olympics are held on International-style rinks, which are a little bigger and wider --- 210 feet long, 98 wide, with goals 13 feet from the end boards.

But the games at this Olympics here are being held at Canada Hockey Place --- which you may know better as GM Place, where the Vancouver Canucks play. The name is changed due to the IOC's rules on sponsorship and all of that (GM not being one of the millions of Olympic sponsors, so no name for them).

And instead of widening the rink, it was decided to leave it as is at regular NHL dimensions --- 200 feet long, 85 feet wide and with goals 11 feet from the end boards.

The decision --- as should be expected --- was largely related to money. It was estimated it would have cost $10 million to make the renovations to the rink. Also, not widening the rink allowed for an estimated 800 more seats to the games, not only allowing more fans but also everyone involved to make that much more money.

On the ice, it means that the teams loaded with NHL players --- including the Americans --- should be able to make an easier adjustment than suddenly having to skate on a bigger ice for a few weeks.

American players made exactly that point after their 3-1 win over Switzerland in their first game in pool play Tuesday --- the Swiss team largely has players who are participating in International leagues.

"They are used to that big ice, so there is certainly a transition for them,'' said American forward Bobby Ryan. "We are all used to this rink, used to the time and space not being there.''

In fact, as the last comment indicates, the conventional wisdom is that the International-sized ice leads to a little more passive game, with a little more finesse and generally not as physical.

With just one day and three games in the books --- all of which pitted favored teams against fairly big underdogs --- it's too early to tell yet how the competition is being impacted by the smaller ice, but it will be something to keep an eye on as the games progress.

There are also some other differences in NHL rules vs. International or Olympics rules. Two of the biggest are that players cited for fighting are ejected immediately rather than just penalized for five minutes; and there is no checking to the head allowed (enforcable by five- or 10-minute penalties).

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