Spengler Cup’s Allen York on Olympic Ice Adjustment
The goaltenders heading to the 2014 Sochi Olympics at the end of this week will face a variety of challenges.
The biggest may be the adjustment from playing in NHL-sized arenas to the international-sized ice surface. It may seem like the skaters will have to do most of the adjusting, but it will not be an easy task for the goaltenders either.
The countries taking part in these Games chose skaters based on who they thought would flourish on the larger ice surface. Players that could skate well, see the ice as a playmaker and were solid passers had an advantage in making the Olympic roster.
There was also a specific type of goaltender some countries looked at as being able to thrive on the international-sized ice. Many believe bigger, more relaxed and conservatively positioned goalies have the best chance of their game translating quickly to the larger ice. That’s because larger goalies that play more conservatively have less area to cover, which works well for pass-heavy, European-style hockey, and also are not off angle quite as frequently.
Team USA went in a different direction, selecting three aggressive goaltenders in Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick. Team Canada, on the other hand, took one aggressive goaltender in Carey Price, one medium-depth goaltender in Roberto Luongo, and one conservative goaltender in Mike Smith.
InGoal Magazine had the chance to catch up with Allen York, who is currently with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays but was recently loaned to the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. York had the unique opportunity to fly to Switzerland over the Christmas holiday and play in the Spengler Cup, which is hosted in Davos every year. He has played in North America his entire career, and was challenged with his first experience on international sized ice at the Spengler Cup.
It’s a challenge that the Olympic goaltenders will be facing very soon, so we asked him some questions about what it felt like, how he adjusted, and his overall experience at the Spengler Cup:
InGoal: You had the interesting challenge of being a goalie that grew up in North America and you play in North America, but you ended up going to Switzerland for the Spengler Cup tournament which is on a larger ice surface. How tough was it for you, having to adjust so quickly to the bigger ice surface?
Allen York: In the first couple practices it felt like I was standing at the wrong angles. I didn’t think it would be that hard going over there, but I realized right away that it was. It took, I guess, about two or three practices before we got really going in the tournament and I felt good then. It was hard to find my angles at the start, though.
IG: And having to do it so quickly, too.
AY: Yeah, the first practice you’re questioning yourself ‘Oh geez, I can’t find my angles’ but we play the next day, so you can’t really worry about it or let it affect your confidence. It was interesting. It’s such a short tournament.
IG: Was the hardest adjustment the angles, or was there any other thing that was a really hard adjustment for you?
AY: I would say the angles, and the style of play. It’s a pass-first game over there, there’s so much ice. There’s no such thing as a bad shot over here because everyone is so in tight and there isn’t much space, If you get a chance, you shoot it. As a goalie you’re always taught to just get set, you’re anticipating the shot more. Over there you almost have to cheat a little bit and anticipate passes, but it’s not really cheating because that’s the way the game is. It’s a little different, it took a while to get used to.
IG: Were there less scramble plays, and more open-ended plays there?
AY: Yeah. There are still scrambles all the time in any game, guys trying to get bounces or whatever, but yeah. Less traffic and they try to make the extra pass. It’s a different style. I can see if you were over there for a while you’d get used to it, but it caught me off guard for sure.
IG: There has been a lot of discussion about what type of goalie is better suited for that type of ice surface. The general concensus is that it tends to be a bigger, more conservative type of goaltender. Team Canada must have agreed with that when they took Mike Smith for the Olympics. Do you agree that type of goaltender is better suited for international play?
AY: Yeah, I would. Also because, with Smith for example, he covers almost as much net as a normal goaltender who would play at the top of his crease. He also has half the distance to travel through the crease because he plays so deep, so yeah, I would agree with that completely. I’m not as conservative as him, at least I try not to be, but overseas you’re almost forced to be more conservative like Smith. You have to get to more passes. It’s an interesting question. Even the bigger goalies over here [in North America] will play more aggressive but over there they can pick apart some guys. I know I would have felt that way if I was playing at my regular depth.
IG: Well you’re not exactly a small goalie yourself. Do you think your size and style helped you make the Spengler roster?
AY: Maybe. I think part of it was my availability. I was just PTOing everywhere at the time, I wasn’t really on a full time contract, so that obviously helped. It was probably a combination of things. I think I may have complimented [Chris] Mason as well, because he’s more of an aggressive goaltender. Maybe that had something to do with it, who knows?
IG: You said you really didn’t have a lot of time to adjust. It’s going to be the same thing in the Olympics when Canada goes over. Do you have any advice for the goalies that are going over, on how they can quickly get ready for that type of game?
AY: Those guys are obviously a little more experienced than me. [Roberto] Luongo’s obviously been there before…
IG: But remember, last the Olympic games were held in Vancouver which still had the smaller ice surface.
AY: Oh that’s right, it was on the smaller ice last time. I think the biggest thing is to just spend time on the ice. I know, for me, the first practice I stayed out afterwards for quite a while because I was like ‘I’m not ready to play on this.’ I stayed out, took shots, and just did extra stuff. Every day I felt more and more comfortable, so I just spent as much time on the ice as I could for the first couple days to adjust.
IG: Get there early and spend as much time out there as you can.
AY: It’s funny though, because when I came back to the small rinks my angles were messed up for the first day or two as well. I feel like it’s just one of those things that you just have to go out there and get through it after enough time on the ice. Like new gear or something, you have to break it in.
IG: How did you actually make the Spengler team? I know you said you had good availability because of your contract situation, but did you have to express interest to anybody? Did they come after you?
AY: They pursued me. My agent called me a few days before they announced the roster and asked if I would be willing to do it. We discussed if it would be good or not, and we decided to do it. If I can remember correctly my agent said that they approached him about doing it, so I think that they wanted me on the team.
IG: They take their hockey pretty seriously over there. Was it a cool atmosphere, and was it interesting to see what hockey is like on that side of the world?
AY: It was pretty unique, yeah. I feel very fortunate that I got to play the Davos game in the round robin. They’re the host team. It was really interesting. They don’t stop chanting or singing the whole game.
IG: Like a soccer match or something.
AY: Yeah, like a soccer game kind of. It was a 3-1 game and we scored to make it 3-2, but they kept singing even though they just got scored on. Over here, if the crowd is chanting and they get scored on it goes quiet. It was almost bizarre. The cool part for me was the main section of the crowd that was leading all of the singing is right behind the visiting team’s goal for the first and third period. It was really cool because it’s extremely loud. I watched the Davos game on TV the day before, you hear them singing, and it sounds kind of cool. When you’re on the ice it is really loud. I was surprised by how loud it was.
Every goaltender that has played on the different ice surfaces knows there is an adjustment period. Is it easier for bigger, more conservative goaltenders to get used the change? Who will thrive in Sochi? These questions will soon be answered when the NHL goes on hiatus, and the Olympic games begin.
Thanks to Allen York for taking the time to talk about his experience.