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Bern games present European challenge

Rangers closing out preseason in foreign building and on bigger ice

Sunday, 09.28.2008 / 4:29 PM / News
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Bern games present European challenge
The first thing you notice when you walk into PostFinance Arena in Bern, Switzerland, is the size of the ice and the configuration of the building.

Rangers Chris Drury (left) and Scott Gomez (center) got their first taste of Bern's PostFinance Arena at Sunday's practice. It's a very different environment from what they are used to in New York.
Indeed, the place where the Rangers will play preseason games on Tuesday and Wednesday before opening the NHL regular season with games in Prague, Czech Republic, this weekend, is a long way from Madison Square Garden with a uniquely European feel.

The ice, of course, is standard for international hockey – some 15 feet wider than an NHL rink. The “big sheet” brings big challenges for NHL players, particularly those who are not used to playing on it. Even players such as Rangers winger Fredrik Sjostrom  who grew up playing on Olympic-sized rinks, find it difficult to re-adjust to them after life in North America.

Asked if he would be comfortable playing on ice the size of what he once knew in Sweden, Sjostrom was quick to respond.

 “People might think that ,” Sjostrom said, “but it's my ninth (North American) year now and this ice doesn't feel natural anymore. I'm on the same level as everybody else.”

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said wider ice can make the game slightly different for a goaltender as well. However, since these upcoming games against the Swiss league’s SC Bern on Tuesday and Russia’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk on Wednesday don’t count in the standings, Lundqvist doesn’t plan on making exceptions for them.

“(The wider ice) is pretty tough now, because you get used to the smaller rink,” said Lundqvist. “It's going to take  a couple of days, but we're only here for a couple of days, so we'll see how  it goes. I'm going to try not to change anything and approach it the same way.  …. The angles are a little wider and there is a little bit more time for players because you have more space. It's a little different, but I'm not going to change anything about how I play.”

Renney expressed some concern about seeing his player play on such wide ice.

“If you want to cheat or be lazy or be kind of complacent then any international team can pick you apart,” Renney said. “We want to make sure we shrink down the size of this rink as much as we can and make sure that everyone understands it's the same size inside the dots. So protect that part of the rink, attack it, use the width that's available to you from an offensive perspective to put them on their heels. But at the same time we really want to prepare to play hockey in the National Hockey League, so that's why you bring it back to inside the dots.

Lundqvist has played on the big sheet as recently as last year’s World Championships, and he said these two days in Bern remind him more of his experiences of international hockey than what he knows from the NHL.

“It feels like I'm with the (Swedish) national team or something right now. When you travel like  this, you're here for a couple of days in a hotel. It's a similar feeling to being on the road with a national team. I've played in Switzerland a lot of times, but this is my first time playing in Bern. 

Very few Rangers players have played competitively in the city of Bern before.  One of those who has is newcomer Markus Naslund, who recalls a trip to the Swiss capital for a summer charity tournament roughly six years ago. In that game, a number of European NHL stars faced an SC Bern team that featured former Rangers left wing Andreas Johansson.

“It's a lot different  n ow,”  Naslund said of the recently remodeled arena. “It looks a lot bigger and newer.

Perhaps the most imposing features of Bern’s arena is the massive standing-room only-section tjhat occumpies the building’s top third. Inlcuding seated customers, the average SC Bern crowd averages more than 17,000, and sellouts are the rule rather than the exception.

While capacity might be within 1,000 of MSG’s total hockey capacity, roughly half of the paying customers at PostFinance Arena stand throughout the game behind metal poles. They are squeezed together tightly enough that  it almost impossible for anyone  to fall down. Imaginie MSG’s blues seats as an area for standees, and you begin to get a feel for PostFinance

“The crowd's more alive. They're singing through the whole game and they've got their drum,” said Lundqvist.  “It's a different  atmosphere. It's more like soccer, but it's cool.