Olympic ice is wider, but is it really bigger?

Team Canada's head coach Mike Babcock during hockey practice at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in...

Team Canada's head coach Mike Babcock during hockey practice at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 10, 2014. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

Rob Longley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:48 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - It is the question that won’t go away, not until Canada wins Olympic gold on the big ice sheet of an international-sized rink.

But Canadian coach Mike Babcock had a different take on the issue and a query of his own following Thursday’s 3-1 win over Norway: Is the ice actually too small rather than too big?

“What I learned tonight is that the big ice isn’t very big,” Babcock said. “The ‘D’ have a hard time to get to the middle to get a shot. So is the rink bigger or is it smaller?”

The ice is much wider, of course, which comes with its own set of challenges. But the configuration of the surface is such that the offensive zones aren’t as deep as an NHL-sized rink which greatly alters the puck flow, especially if you actively include your defence in the attack.

The Norway strategy didn’t exactly make it easy on the high-flying Canadians either as they lined up four across on the blue-line at times and at others had all five defenders in the slot area of their own end.

It doesn’t lend too much offence for the underdog — and a lot of luck would be required to pull out a win.

But in the broader picture, if other teams (starting with Austria on Friday) take a look at the tape showing the strategy employed by Norway coach Roy Johansen, the Canadians are going to see a lot more of it in this tournament.

“You have teams like that sitting back and they have four guys sitting across the blue-line,” Canadian captain Sidney Crosby said. “You have to be smart and make sure you are smart with the puck and don’t turn it over at the blue-line.”

Added forward Patrick Sharp: “The angles are different when you are coming around the wing shooting. It changes power plays it changes penalty kills.”

GAME ON

The adventures with the larger ice were not limited by any means to the skaters, as Carey Price found out on the lone Norway goal. While venturing out of his crease early in the third period, the Habs star seemed momentarily stunned and retreated. That allowed Norway’s Patrick Thoreson to grab it, cruise wide and slip the puck under his arm for a power-play goal to narrow the score to 2-1. “Yeah, it’s a little bit further to get back there,” Price said. “Yeah, there’s a lot more ice out there, no question.” ... They were falling over at the Iceberg Palace in the men’s figure skating event and they were falling at the Bolshoy Ice Dome as well. Temperatures that topped 22 C during the day (Stanley Cup final weather) may have been a contributing factor. “I fell down quite a bit,” Canada forward Chris Kunitz said. “The ice is a little slippery over here or something.” ... Give the Norwegians credit: They are far from the most talented team in the tournament, but the edge they bring and the way they battle for the puck at least makes a good team like Canada realize they are in a game. And they had a good idea that they would face a disoriented opponent ripe for a potential off night. “We knew they were going to be a little shaky,” Thoreson said. “They weren’t used to the ice surface, they flew in three days ago and the time change and all that. It’s always hard to come from a small rink to a big surface. We knew we had a small chance to upset them. We tried to do that.” ... Given the relative size of their opponent, the Canadians did a poor job of getting people in front of the net, a weakness Babcock and his players acknowledged post-game. “We got a little bit too fancy,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We tried to make all the cute plays and we got to just get the pucks to the net.” ... Further evidence that the Canadians struggle with the bigger ice: On a first period power-play they had one shot on goal, one icing, one off-side and no goals

MORE SCORE

While not detailing them all, Babcock acknowledged there will be line changes vs. Austria. For one, defenceman P.K. Subban should draw in while Dan Hamhuis would be the likely healthy scratch. As well, Mike Smith will back up Game 2 starter Roberto Luongo ... What a pretty (and pretty timely) backhander by Kings defenceman Drew Doughty up over the left shoulder of Norway goaler Lars Haugen ... Speaking of Haugen, he said his team did its best not to view the Canadians with awe. “You see a lot of those guys on TV, but they are human like us and we play against good players every week,” said Haugen, who may one day view it as a highlight that he kept Canada off the scoresheet for the first 27 minutes of the game ... Don’t know if it came through the TV, but every time the Norwegians had a rush, the fans at the Bolshoy started chanting “Shaybu, Shaybu” the Russian call for goal or score. Clear that the home crowd wants Canada to lose.

QUICK HITS

Favourite move in the crammed post-game interview area: The European dude who came in seeking a Crosby autograph on a Penguins jersey. Ace Hockey Canada PR man Andre Brin nipped that one in the bud ... You could have made a wager on Canada in their opener. But to profit $100, you would have had to produce a stake of almost $7,000 ... At one point in the second period, the Canadians had a 12-0 edge in shots.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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