Olympics-Ice hockey-Big ice of little concern to Canada

By Frank Pingue

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Canada's bid for a second consecutive men's Olympic ice hockey gold medal will not be undone by a larger playing surface which has hindered the nation's best players in the past, team members said on Tuesday.

Since National Hockey League players began competing in the Olympics in 1998, each tournament held on international-sized ice rinks has not been kind to North American teams.

The Sochi Games represent the fifth time NHL players have competed in the Olympics. Two of those Games, in 1998 and 2006, were played on the larger ice surface and Canada and the United States failed to medal in each.

"I don't think it's a concern. We obviously have to be aware of that and if there are little adjustments to make we have to make sure we make them and make them quick," Canadian captain Sidney Crosby told reporters.

"We are very aware of what we need to do so we don't feel like we are guessing out there. I feel like we just need to make sure that we execute well."

The talk of making adjustments is similar to what members of the national team said ahead of the 1998 Nagano and 2006 Turin Games, where Canada finished fourth and seventh respectively.

Conversely, in both the 2002 Salt Lake and 2010 Vancouver Games, where games were played on NHL-sized ice surfaces, Canada and the United States met in the gold-medal game, with the former winning on both occasions.

"I certainly think it's a different style of game, obviously different than playing in the NHL, so I certainly understand why people talk about it," said Canadian forward John Tavares.

"We are certainly talking about the adjustments we have to make. It's part of the challenges that you face, every team has to deal with it and everyone is playing on the same sheet of ice and you go out there and try to execute."

Like an NHL ice rink, the international playing surface is still 200 feet long, but instead of being 85 feet wide, it is 100.

The fundamentals of shooting the puck and scoring goals are the same but different defensive systems, transition from defense to offense in a larger neutral zone, deeper corners and more area for defenseman to cover present key changes.

Following Canada's practice at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, which will host nearly all the men's games, Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo admitted the larger ice affects netminders a lot.

"The angles are different, your lateral movement has to be a little different than on a normal ice and you don't want to be moving as much laterally because the ice is so wide and you don't want to get caught out of your position," said Luongo.

"Yesterday obviously it was a little difficult but already today you could feel more comfortable out there ... we got a couple more practices before the first game and I am not concerned about it at all."

Canada play their first game on Thursday against Norway. (Reporting by Ed Osmond)