Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Winter

Canada Hockey Palace

The advertisements that clutter the boards and the ice throughout the N.H.L. schedule will be wiped clear.

At all other times it is known as General Motors Place, the home of the Canucks in downtown Vancouver. But during the Olympics, where a different set of corporate sponsorships holds contractual sway, the 15-year-old, 18,810-seat rink will be Canada Hockey Place, the showplace venue for Canada’s winter game at the Winter Games.

As the showplace arena in Canada’s third-largest city, it has served as the stage for some momentous hockey games. At the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, it was the scene of the only meeting between Canada and Russia, a 5-3 group-stage victory for the hosts; in 2006, it was the main stage for the 2006 I.I.H.F. World Junior Championship, including the final, won by Canada over Russia, 5-0.

It may well host another Canada-Russia clash at the Olympics, although the apocalyptic nature of such a gold-medal game is hard to visualize. Surely no hockey game would be so nervously anticipated since Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series. But mark that date: Sunday, Feb. 28, 12:15 p.m. Pacific.

Twenty-six of the men’s tournament’s 28 games, as well as 5 women’s games, will be played at the Garage, as Canucks fans call the building. On the men’s side, only one relegation-round match and a single quarterfinal-round match will be played elsewhere.

On the women’s side, Canada Hockey Place will be the site for the semifinals, as well as the bronze- and gold-medal matches.

The ice surface itself will be only 85 feet wide, the N.H.L. and North American standard rather than the international standard of 100 feet. It is the first time an Olympic tournament will be played on a narrow rink, but as a high percentage of the players from European Olympic teams have played in North America during their careers, it is not expected to be handicap.

But while the ice surface will remain unchanged, there will be changes to other parts of the building, starting when the Canucks step off the ice for their last pre-Olympic home game on the night of Jan. 27.

The bench areas will be lengthened to hold 23 players, three more than N.H.L. teams dress. About 2,000 of the rink’s seats will be switched over to news media work stations, and rather than two dressing rooms, the building will have three, with more temporary ones built outside — a necessity for an arena that will stage three games daily in eight of the tournament’s first nine dates.

Best of all, the advertisements that clutter the boards and the ice throughout the N.H.L. schedule will be wiped clear, briefly returning hockey to the clean white sheet on which most of the game’s history was inscribed.

And will a loonie be implanted at center ice, as it was by the Canadian ice-maker at the 2002 Salt Lake Games (won by both the Canadian men and women) and at the 2008 I.I.H.F. Men’s World Championship (won by Russia, diminishing the mystique of the coin’s hockey magic)?

No, says Denis Hainault, director of ice sports for the Vancouver Games. If the Canadian men or the Canadian women win gold, they will have to rely on their own skills and the bounce of the puck.