SOCHI – With two months to go until the opening ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, representatives of the International Ice Hockey Federation, the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association held a site visit in the Russian city on the Black Sea.
While there are still some diggers and cranes in and around the Olympic Park, they are mostly there to work on the final details and roads.
The two ice hockey competition venues have already been open for several months. The Bolshoy Ice Dome and the Shayba Arena were both successfully tested during the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship and have been operational in most areas since.
Since last April changes were made mostly to the interior to make the arenas ready for the bigger amount of people, players and technical demands during the Olympics.
During the International Break in two weeks, the Bolshoy Ice Dome will also be used for the First Channel Cup that will include the men’s national teams from the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. Earlier this year exhibition games were played between the women’s national teams of Russia and Canada.
In total five ice sheets will be used for ice hockey. The Bolshoy Ice Dome, which includes 12 dressing rooms, an entry for bigger vehicles such as busses and a ring road under its roof, has a practice rink that was also used for local kids during the site visit. For many of them it is their first ever hockey season since there haven’t been ice rinks before in the city that used to be known mainly as a summer resort.
Just across the Shayba Arena, a third hockey building includes two practice sheets that will be used by the hockey teams at the Olympics.
The Olympic ice sport venues are all close to each other, as is the Olympic Village that looks to be nearly complete. Everything is centered by the Olympic Plaza where fans without tickets will be able to convene and follow the winter sports on screens.
Also the Fisht Olympic Stadium, located just beside the Shayba Arena, is in its final stage of completion. It will be used for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics and later also as tribunes for Formula 1 races and football games of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
During the site visit held from Monday to Thursday this week, representatives from the IIHF, NHL and NHLPA had the chance to visit the ice hockey buildings and ask questions to the representatives from different areas of the Organizing Committee for the Sochi 2014 Olympic & Paralympic Games during the last stage of preparation.
They also visited the Olympic Village, the airport, the soon-to-open railway station of the Olympic Park that will connect Sochi with the mountain cluster within 40 minutes, the media facilities and other important areas to make sure everything will work smoothly next February when the best male and female ice hockey players in the world will compete for medals along with athletes from many other sports.
The Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament includes 12 teams. The top-9 teams of the 2012 IIHF Men’s World Ranking were qualified automatically while the three remaining teams – Latvia, Austria and Slovenia – were identified through qualification tournaments in the 2012/2013 season that involved 24 nations.
Host Russia will play Slovakia, the United States and Slovenia in Group A. Group B includes Finland, defending champion Canada, Norway and Austria, and Group C the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and Latvia.
The best four teams – the three group winners and the second-placed team with the best record – will be qualified for the quarter-finals while the remaining eight teams will play a qualification game to advance. Most games of the men’s ice hockey tournament are played Bolshoy Ice Dome.
The women’s ice hockey tournament includes eight teams with most games being held at Shayba Arena. The best six teams of the 2012 IIHF Women’s World Ranking were automatically qualified while Germany and Japan made it to Sochi through qualification events that included 20 nations.
The women’s event will be played in a similar format like the recent IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. The top-four seeded teams – Canada, the United States, Finland and Switzerland – will play in Group A. The four lower-ranked teams from Sweden, Russia, Germany and Japan will play in Group B.
The top-two ranked teams of Group A will receive a bye for the semi-finals while the remaining two teams of Group A will play quarter-final games against the best two teams from Group B.
The Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament will also be used to determine through a 7th-place game which team will be relegated from the top level in view of the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.
The Shayba Arena will be the second venue for ice hockey games at the Olympics. In the background: the Fisht Olympic Stadium that will host the opening and closing ceremonies. Photo: Martin Merk