LAKE PLACID, NY -- It's the age old question. Does playing on an Olympic-sized ice sheet really make that much of a difference from the typical NHL size surface of most college hockey arenas?
It is a question on the minds of the four ECAC Hockey coaches whose teams will be playing at 1980 Rink at Herb Brooks Arena on Friday in the semifinals of the league tournament.
Heading back to Lake Placid with its rich history was enough of an enticement for the league and its teams after spending the past decade-plus in Albany and Atlantic City.
"We're clearly excited to be participating in the championship back in Lake Placid. Our guys and a lot of our fans are excited to be heading back to the place we were for so many years. There's the history of Lake Placid, obviously the 1980 Olympics. Most of our guys know of it from the movie Miracle on Ice," said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan.
Typically, playing on a bigger ice sheet benefits the smaller, faster and more skilled teams. The bigger, more physical teams usually prefer a smaller surface to use their size to gain an advantage. That would appear to be the case in the first semifinal between Union and Cornell.
The Dutchmen are the more skilled team whereas the Big Red has the decided advantage in physicality and size.
"They appear to be one of the biggest teams in the country and I'm not sure we are," said Union head coach Rick Bennett, who has guided his troops to back-to-back ECAC Tournament championships. "From a size perspective, they definitely have the advantage on us there," continued Bennett.
"We've been on the [Olympic sheet] so maybe we feel better about playing on an Olympic sheet, but once the puck is dropped, hockey is hockey. Whoever is on that night is going to win," said Bennett, not valuing his team's experience on the big sheet compared to Cornell.
"Using your size on that Olympic sheet is pretty difficult because it is that extra 15 feet wide," said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer, trying to downplay his team's advantage in size. "It's going to be a game up there where you have to think the game because people are going to have time and space," continued Schafer.
In the second semifinal, Quinnipiac has the reputation for being a very skilled, quick club that could pose a threat on a big surface, but Colgate has some speedy forwards as well.
"The big ice is certainly a factor. [Quinnipiac] comes hard, especially the Jones brothers. They are really crafty. They get in and out of space quickly, but we feel that we can play that kind of game, too. You have to respect the big ice and find ways to make it a little smaller," said Vaughan.
The long-time Colgate bench boss believes the paying spectators will get their money's worth in the nightcap.
"It could make for a really exciting game. It could be a really entertaining game for the fans if both teams bring their skating game, which I anticipate we will," added Vaughan.
Colgate got off to an up-and-down first half, but the team's fortunes started to turn the other way at the Mariucci Classic against two of the top teams in the country, Minnesota and Ferris State. That tournament happened to also be played on an Olympic sheet at Mariucci Arena on the Campus of the University of Minnesota.
"The Minnesota series was also an Olympic sheet. We felt that was a couple of our better games all year long. We thought we performed well on the big ice," said Vaughan.
"We've been trying to figure it out all week," surmised Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold, when asked how the big sheet would impact the game.
"We won't know until Friday. It's definitely going to change the game. It's a different game on the big sheet. I can't tell if it helps or hurts us right now. We do have good team speed so I would hope it helps us, but Colgate also has good team speed," Pecknold continued.
"You have to be smart about not running around too much and using the [faceoff] dots as a basic point for not trying to be outside the dots," said Pecknold.
"It's going to be interesting. There is definitely going to be a goal or two scored this weekend where somebody makes a mistake because it is a big sheet," explained Pecknold.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.