Olympic ice hockey is always a marquee event. Since the NHL started allowing its players to compete in the winter Olympics, dating back to 1998, men’s ice hockey has become a particular draw. While Olympic ice hockey differs from NHL hockey, top teams are largely made up of NHL and even former NHL players.
Key Differences From NHL Hockey
The International Ice Hockey Federation sets the rules for both men’s and women’s Olympic ice hockey games. While the essence of the sport stays the same, Olympic ice hockey features differences from NHL hockey.
- Ice size: Olympic ice rinks are 210 feet long by 98 feet wide, bigger than the 200-foot by 85-foot NHL rink. Olympians get an extra two feet from the boards to the goal line specifically.
- Bench strength: Olympic teams can dress 20 skaters and two goalies, while NHL teams are limited to 18 skaters and two goalies.
- Fighting: Players get a match penalty and booted from the game for fighting in an Olympics game. NHL rules specify a five-minute major, meaning the fighters may return to the game after five minutes.
How Teams Are Ranked
There are 12 spots for men’s ice hockey in the Olympics. The top nine teams ranked by the IIHF World Ranking receive automatic berths in the standings. Other teams have the opportunity to qualify through a series of tournaments. The IIHF awards teams points based on the last Olympic performance and the last four IIHF World Championships.
The following nine teams received automatic berths to the 2014 Olympics according to their IIHF ranking, in order:
- Czech Republic
- United States
How Teams Are Chosen
Each country has its own team with attendant management. Management for Olympic hockey teams tends to be from the highest levels of professional hockey. They get to choose from the best professional players. For Team USA and Team Canada, they chose exclusively NHL players, although Team Sweden only has one non-NHL player, forward Jimmie Ericsson.
The managers use their own formula for selecting their Olympics team. Team Canada and Team USA discussed their methodology. Team Canada seemed to select the best of the best while Team USA attempted to make a team.
Key Olympic Snubs
Many NHL players were excitedly surprised to get named to their country’s 2014 Olympics teams. Some, such as Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain and scoring leader Sidney Crosby and New Jersey Devils record-breaking machine Jaromir Jagr, were obvious picks. However, Team Canada and Team U.S.A had to make some tough decisions, decisions that snubbed players who had seemed obvious picks:
- Joe Thornton, Canada: Thornton is a top-level center, but Team Canada is already deep in that position.
- Keith Yandle, USA: Though Yandle leads all American-born defensemen in scoring, he was omitted largely in favor of more defensive defensemen.
- Bobby Ryan, USA: Ryan is an explosively offensive forward who breaks open key plays with skilled puck handling. However, management questioned his versatility and speed.
Erik Johnson, USA: Though Johnson has done extraordinarily well representing his country, having done so five times, he was left off the roster.