August 27, 2013

Big Ice, Small Ice: Why Is There A Difference?

With both Team Canada and Team USA having their Olympic training camps, probably the biggest concern for both North American teams is the bigger international sized ice. And rightfully so.

So I want to get this off my chest while the Olympics on and international hockey is still at the forefront: North American ice is not small. International ice is big ice, but North American is actually the standard sized ice surface.

You see, way back in the 1800s when the game was being created and the rules drawn, it was decided the ice surface would be 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. Why? Pretty simple really. When McGill students who wrote up the original rules of hockey they were using Montreal's Victoria Skating Rink. Built in 1862, the ice surface measured 204 feet by 80 feet. Why those dimensions? Those numbers were picked simply because the building was limited in length in order to fit in between city streets.

They tinkered with the number a bit over time, settling on the 200x85 model, but with a standardized ice surface for the nation's most popular game set, every indoor rink subsequently built in Canada and the United States used it.

So why do the Europeans use bigger ice? Again, fairly simple. Europeans did not begin playing Canadian style hockey until the early 20th century. And a governing body, the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace - forerunner to the International Ice Hockey Federation - was not established until 1908. They adopted most of the Canadian rules when establishing their own set of rules, but they more or less had to change the ice surace measurements because there were so many indoor rinks already in existence by this time. These rinks were built with other sports in mind, such as figure skating and their own hockey-like ice games. So they were built bigger and wider.

The LIHG-turned-IIHF settled on the 200 feet by 100 feet rink dimensions, providing 3000 more square feet of playing surface. Subsequently, as the game caught on throughout Europe, their indoor rinks were built for these hockey measurements.

I woud like to see a standardized ice surface in place nowadays. It seems ridiculous to have two different surface sizes. Of course, that would mean every rink on one of the two continents would have to altered, so it's just not going to happen.

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