Prior to the overtime period of the gold medal game in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Sidney Crosby had a rather pedestrian tournament by his considerable standards. But concerns over his "mere" point per game scoring average and an inability to mesh with all-star linemates such as Rick Nash were eliminated after he shouted Jarome Iginla's nickname and exposed Ryan Miller's five hole with an overtime goal which won a gold medal for Canada in Vancouver on a smaller North American rink.
Four years later, the Olympics are being held in Sochi, Russia on a larger rink and Crosby will lead Canada's defense of its gold medal as the team's captain.
Earlier this season, Crosby addresses questions regarding the games and Canada's history on larger rinks.
The NHL will shut down for more than two weeks and put several of its high profile players at risk to injury. Does the NHL get enough benefit from participating in the Olympics?
"I think they do. It’s great exposure. On top of that, hockey fans, whether you’re a fan of the NHL or other leagues, get to see everybody together at the same time. I think it’s a great thing to be a part of."
There's a nine hour time difference between the East Coast and Sochi. Will any benefit the league gets from television be limited by that?
"I don’t look at it from that standpoint. I look at it from a player’s standpoint. It’s an opportunity to play for your country and basically having the whole world watch, I think that’s good for everybody whether you’re a player or a fan."
What do you expect the atmosphere to be like in Sochi?
"I’ve never been there [to Russia]. They showed us some stuff at the orientation camp in Calgary. I think when you’re there, you’re pretty much practicing. You’re with your group. It’s not like you’re going too far [outside of the Olympic village]. From what I’ve heard, basically that city was built for the Olympics. The village is pretty much where you’re staying for most of it."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will be your head coach for Canada as he was in 2010. Dan Bylsma played for him in Anaheim. Are there any similarities in how they coach?
"I think just the style. They want a fast pace game. They like speed. They try to really force guys to move the puck quick, make quick decisions. Play with a lot of place. I think that’s pretty noticeable, at least for me either at Team Canada camp or playing of team Canada and here [the Penguins]. It’s a pretty seamless transition that way. They both expect that. That’s nice for me. I don’t have to change much."
The 2006 Olympics were the last played on the larger dimensions of an International Ice Hockey Federation rink. Canada's management was criticized for taking several players seen as better fits for North American rinks. After finishing in seventh in those Olympics, do you think Canada has taken a different approach to playing on a larger rink?
"Maybe. From what I understood in camp, everything looked to be pretty similar to the way we played in Vancouver on North American ice. Foundation and the way your play and guys’ strength, you’re not going to be able to change that in a couple of weeks. I’m sure there will be tiny adjustments. But for the most part, even with the ice being a little bit bigger, you try to play the same way."
There was a lot of criticism at management when you were left off that team. Do you ever think about that or dwell on it?
"No. Honestly, I didn’t think I had a chance of being considered. I’m 18 years old. I didn’t even think it was possible. So when my name was being thrown around, I was obviously excited. To not be on it… it wasn’t like I expected to be on it. I thought it was just a good thing that I was mentioned in the mix and that meant I had a pretty good start to my first [NHL] year. As soon as I wasn’t picked, I was a fan like everyone else."
Since the NHL first starting participating in the Olympics in 1998, the United States and Canada have only won medals when the tournaments were held in North America (2002 in Salt Lake City and 2010 in Vancouver). Do you think the difference in time zones with tournaments in the Eastern Hemisphere have played a factor?
"I don’t know. [Europeans] are playing here and going over. Whether they’re used to it…I don’t know. I don’t think that had much to do with it. Everyone has to travel back to do the same thing. I can’t see that playing too big of a part. There’s definitely more of a comfort level here [in North America], there’s no doubt. In Vancouver, you know your surroundings and you’re familiar with everything. You get treated probably a little bit better when you’re hosting. You get a nicer room and stuff like that. You get taken care of a little bit better just because you’re the host. Other than that, I think there’s not a great explanation for that."
Are questions or concerns about how the North American teams will play on the larger IIHF rinks overblown?
"I think it’s overblown. It’s a fair point. It’s a fact. But to say that’s the reason for winning, that’s looking into it a little bit too much. I think ultimately the team that plays the best is going to win. It’s not going to matter, the size of the ice. If your goalie stands on his head and steals you a game, the size of the ice doesn’t really matter. It’s a detail of the game. Just like playing a different team, you have to adjust sometimes. I don’t think you have to change the way your team plays. If that’s the case, you’re probably going be in trouble."
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)