ARLINGTON, VA -- When the hockey world descends on Sochi for the 2014 Olympic Games, they will be greeted with a bigger ice surface, a surface not see in the tournament since the 2006 Games in Torino.
The increased size of the ice sheet was a hot topic on the opening day of Team USA's Olympic orientation camp Monday. Some players have experience on the big ice, while others don't. Some fancy the extra room to maneuver around on, while others might fear their lack of speed will hurt them. Those are some of the factors that general manager David Poile and his staff will need to consider when they sit down to select the final roster.
San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski is no stranger to the bigger surface. He played on it when he was younger and for a short time while he was with Dynamo Minsk during the NHL lockout last season.
“It did cross my mind when I was going over [to Minsk] it would be a good thing to go experience again," he said.
For Pavelski, the extra ice allows for more creativity, but it also provides a different challenge.
“It’s just fun playing," he said. "It was definitely a little different game, holding on to the puck a little longer, be patient in certain areas and situations. It was a change of pace. It did take me a little bit to get used to, but I was really glad I went over [to the KHL]. [Around] game eight or nine things started to click a little bit better. It was all of a sudden you knew the situations [and] the areas of the ice you can do certain things on.”
Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes, meanwhile, sees his game as a defenseman change with some added room, and he's relishing the chance.
“We watched a little video today and I got a excited to maybe have the opportunity to be on the big ice," he said. "I’d say probably my best strength is my skating and being able to skate out of trouble. With the big rink you can do that. You can get pucks and escape trouble a little easier than in an NHL rink just because there’s that much more room.”
Ryan Kesler and David Backes had to watch Team Canada celebrate after Sidney Crosby's goal in overtime won the gold medal in 2010. Despite Team USA overcoming the doubters prior to the tournament, a silver medal was quite the achievement.
But for Kesler, the loss still hurts and the images of the Canadians celebrating remain.
“That’ll never leave. A lot of guys are returning and we all know that feeling still.”
David Backes, on the other hand, changed his focus in the aftermath of the gold medal game.
“I’ve kind of suppressed those thoughts," he said. "After the Games you go right into your NHL season and there’s not a lot of time to reflect. I since have and I’ve concentrated less on what the Canadians did and more on what we did and the successes and where we potentially fell a little short.
"The emotions that we had and what I was feeling, rather than the elation that they were feeling are driving factors for me still to improve one spot and bring home the gold.”
Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks has had quite a year. If you told him a year ago everything he would experience in the following 12 months, he probably would have said you were crazy.
He started the year with Rockford of the AHL, and after making the Blackhawks in January, Saad finished with 10 goals and 27 points, good enough to warrant being named a Calder Trophy finalist. But there was another trophy he had his eye on: the Stanley Cup.
Saad contributed six points as the Blackhawks won their second Cup in four seasons. Not long after the Cup win, Saad was named to Team USA's Olympic orientation camp roster. Now with a bit of a summer break, he's been able to finally process just exactly what's happened to him over the past 12 months.
“It’s been pretty unbelievable," he said. "It’s been surreal. When it happened, it didn’t quite sink in at the time, but having my party and seeing pictures an seeing the Cup again, it’s really sank in.”
Between the preparation for next season and his celebrating with the Cup, Saad found time to finally shave the mullet he grew during the playoffs.
"I think people were happy to see it go," he joked.
“I was actually playing during the game, so I heard about the score after … I remember not being happy I didn’t get to watch it, but catching the scores and hearing it throughout the intermissions.” - Brandon Saad on where he was during the 2010 gold medal game.
"I want to play for this team for more than anything and represent it again. But I do know that one of the most important things is making sure I play well the first half of the season.” - Jack Johnson
“You try to erase them. You don’t want to keep those memories in your mind. They happen and you just move on from them.” - Phil Kessel on not keeping memories of losing the gold medal game and Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We tried to keep it out of the locker room as much as possible. But it does take a toll on you. You’re thinking about it every day if your team’s going to be moving. Even in the summer, you didn’t know if the team was really going to be there. Just to have the ownership and have them come in and take us in the right direction, that’s going to be great.” - Keith Yandle on the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership situation finally being settled.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy