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Canada's Sydney Crosby looks on as members of the media stand behind him during their men's team ice hockey practice at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 12, 2014. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Canada's Sydney Crosby looks on as members of the media stand behind him during their men's team ice hockey practice at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 12, 2014. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

The many quirky differences between NHL and Olympic hockey Add to ...

Some of the tweaks are tiny and almost imperceptible even to ardent hockey fans.

Some you’ll notice right away.

The men’s hockey tournament at the Olympics may include 147 NHL players from all 30 teams, but it will be played under IIHF rules, which include all sorts of changes that may confuse some North American viewers.

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The biggest and most obvious example is the ice surface, which in Sochi will be Olympic sized at 200 feet by 100 feet (15 feet wider than in the NHL). But the other change there is where the goal lines and bluelines are, as the international sheet has a longer neutral zone (58 feet compared to 50), shorter offensive zones (58 feet compared to 64) and more room to work with behind the net (13 feet compared to 11).

But those changes are pretty obvious. Here are a few other of the other main differences between the rules in the NHL and the Olympic Games:

  • Crowded benches. Unlike in the NHL, where coaches can use only four forward lines and six defencemen (or sometimes 11 forwards and seven defencemen), in the Olympics you can dress 20 skaters and two goaltenders. So there may be some players, like Ales Hemsky in the Czech’s first game against Sweden, who ride the bench an awful lot.
  • No banana curves. The international rules on curved sticks are more stringent, with players only allowed a curve of a maximum of 1.5 centimetres (0.59 inches). In the NHL, that limit is nearly 30 per cent higher, something that could affect players like Ilya Kovalchuk who enjoy using big time curves. And could make a stick measurement more likely to be called.
  • No standing in the crease. The IIHF rule calls for officials to blow dead the play “if an attacking player stands in the goal crease” and a faceoff in the neutral zone. This is one of the main reasons for more whistles in Olympic play than the NHL and something players have to be much more wary of.
  • Tougher on penalties. Olympic rules are much more strict when it comes to things like hitting from behind, hits to the head/neck and fighting, with all three coming with stiffer penalties. A hit from behind, for example, comes with a 10-minute misconduct, even if it’s only a minor penalty. And checks to the head also come with automatic misconducts, including match penalties if a player is injured. Dropping the gloves gets you tossed from the game.
  • Helmets and visors mandatory, always. If a player loses their helmet during play in the Olympics, they have to go directly to the bench. And all players born after Dec. 31, 1974, (i.e. everyone 38 and younger) has to wear a visor at all times.
  • So long trapezoid. Goalies can play the puck where they like behind the net at the Olympics, an advantage for Mike Smith types who excel at moving the puck.
  • No-touch icing. Pretty self-explanatory.

Thirteen of the 28 officials working the Olympics this time around are from the NHL, so it’ll be an adjustment for them as well. Here’s a full list of the referees and linesmen at the Games.

Follow me on Twitter: @mirtle

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle