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As rinks go, Hawks are big on small

Coliseum dimensions could help arena feel more like home

It's an old barn, but the Portland Winter Hawks like it.

'If you get really great fans in here,' veteran Kyle Bailey says, sitting in the locker room at Memorial Coliseum, 'it's unbelievable.'

This weekend, the Hawks play the first two of 36 home games - 30 in the coliseum, the other six in the Rose Garden. Portland will take the ice at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Kelowna and 5 p.m. Sunday versus Kamloops.

New owners wanted to make the coliseum more of a full-time home, and new replay screens and television and other improvements eventually will make the place more comfortable for players and fans (the equipment has yet to arrive).

Will the Hawks enjoy a home-ice advantage in the coliseum?

Literally, the game changes there because of the arena's smaller surface - 85-by-185 feet, as opposed to buildings with 85-by-200-foot rinks. (Actually, former coach Brent Peterson once measured the coliseum's width, and it's 82 feet.)

And, while other Western Hockey League buildings have changed their offensive and defensive zones to match NHL standards, the Hawks have kept the coliseum's the same - changing would have meant an incredibly small neutral zone.

Dimensions in the coliseum (versus other WHL buildings in parentheses): rink's end to goal line, 10 feet (11 feet); goal lines to blue lines, 60 feet, 6 inches (64 feet); neutral zone, 44 feet (50 feet).

Portland's strengths at defense and goaltender can work to the team's advantage on the smaller ice, even with the WHL's new emphasis on obstruction penalties. It's a different strategy, definitely.

'There's less room to operate. We always talk about effective defenders taking away time and space,' coach Mike Williamson says.

'Game's a lot tighter,' defenseman Michael Sauer says. 'It's quick hockey, up-and-down.'

The smaller coliseum ice 'rewards teams that play physically and battle in the trenches (the boards),' Bailey adds.

Williamson says teams must move the puck faster and more often in the offensive zone.

Crowds like the sound of Hawks checking opponents into the coliseum boards -'it's looser glass,' Bailey says.

And Portland players say rougher ice patches that develop on the coliseum ice sheet can be to their advantage, as well.