Most ice surfaces are 200 feet in length. In a ‘NHL’ or ‘regulation’ sized rink the width is 60-80 feet, while the ‘Olympic’ ice sheet is 100 feet in width. Obviously the regulation size is smaller overall, but which one is better?
To solve this question we must first figure out what is meant by better. Which is better for the spectators, instruction, the players, etc.? Logically there is more area with an ‘Olympic’ sized sheet over a ‘regulation’ sized sheet. This is beneficial for the speed and pace of the game, especially at higher levels; Junior, College, Pro. What about for youth hockey? Does the Olympic size sheet really help the players and to what degree?
From a playing standpoint, the smaller the sheet, the slower the game gets. It becomes easier to angle your opponent, harder to get around them and more difficult to generate scoring opportunities. With the larger ice sheet it opens up more lanes to handle the puck, more outlet lanes for a pass and more time to find open space or open players. The pace of the game is faster and scoring chances are more abundant.
From a coaching standpoint a larger rink is better for a few reasons. During gameplay, your team can generate more scoring chances. When talking about skilled players, they will work their magic on a small or large sheet of ice, however, they will be much more dangerous on the larger sheet of ice. Your defensive coverage and angling during gameplay has to be on point, but if it is not, you can rely on your team’s speed to overcome these deficits.
Secondary to coaching during a game, you also have practice time. During these training sessions, regardless of age level, you will have more space to get more players involved in drills and small area training exercises. It is much easier to throw four nets on the ice and have eight different players involved in four different drills on an ‘Olympic’ sheet of ice. This larger sheet of ice also allows you to have more players on the ice at a given time, therefore reducing the ice fees for your team.
From the standpoint of a spectator, it is truly all about personal preference. Some people like fast pace, high scoring games, while other prefer the corner work, clutching and grabbing and slower pace. I do think that from a spectator’s standpoint that Mite and Squirt games not as interesting to watch on the larger ice sheet. It is more difficult for the players to make passes as they are so spread out. It also really doesn’t develop any skill during gameplay when one player can literally skate from end to end and have no one around him. At the PeeWee level, depending on the skill of the players, the larger sheet can be too much. Given the fact that there is no checking allowed at the PeeWee level, I think playing on the larger ice allows the players with higher skill levels to be more creative, which is paramount to skill development.
I think given the points made above, the larger ice sheet prevails. There is so much more you can accomplish, teach and watch when players are on a larger playing surface. Even though the gameplay is suspect at the younger age levels, you can make up for it by getting a lot of the kids out there for practice and skill building sessions. At the older levels, not only does it allow the player to be creative in the game, but in practice, you can condense the size of the surface to greatly increase the development of the skills required to play at a high level.