The biggest hockey shaft found at the Sochi Games isn’t the one carried by Slovakia captain Zdeno Chara. It’s the shaft perpetrated on nationalist hockey fans on both sides of the Atlantic who believe a gold medal confirms international hockey supremacy. With the Winter Games bouncing between continents more often than a freestyle aerial skier on a bad landing, hockey players must quickly adjust to the annual four-year flux in the size of their Olympic playing service. The surface at the Iceberg Skating Palace contains an extra 1,500 square feet of ice — an area that would cost you approximately $3,500 a month to rent in Toronto’s Bay and Wellington district. Additional differences include a neutral zone that’s eight feet longer, defensive zones that are four feet shorter, and nets two feet closer to the blue line. This configuration allows defending teams to cover the point faster — and it puts snipers like Ovechken, Crosby and Kessel closer to the net when unleashing their bullet-like point shots. It’s such a significant variation in playing surface between continents that it’s not the same “good ole hockey game” we love in Canada — and definitely not an “apples to apples” comparison. And if you don’t think it matters to professional athletes trained to adjust to all kinds of playing conditions, then imagine the Buffalo Bills having to play CFL rules when they make their annual trek north to lose at the Roger’s Centre. Obviously, our balls aren’t the only thing bigger than the NFL’s when it comes to football. Depending on where the Games are held, using Olympic gold to lay claim to the title of “best hockey nation” is as accurate a measure of excellence as an Oscar is compared to a Golden Globe when naming the year’s best movie. However, following up their win in Vancouver with a gold medal performance in Sochi will certainly ease any concerns about Canada’s supremacy on ice.
THE ICEBERG SKATING RINK