SAN JOSE -- They'll get three days of practice before their first games at the Sochi Olympics.

In that time, the Sharks' Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Antti Niemi will have to develop chemistry with their teammates, reacquaint themselves with their coaches and become reaccustomed to the nuances of playing an international style of hockey before they compete against the world's other top players.

Pavelski of Team USA, Vlasic and Marleau of Team Canada and Niemi of Team Finland are aware of the numerous challenges that await them in Russia. But they are not burdened by them.

The only thing that matters is coming back with the gold medal.

"At the end of the day, you're competing, You're playing a game and you want to win, and we're going to try and find a way to do that," Pavelski said. "The wider ice. If you're looking at the ice sheet and making excuses, you're probably already down."

This will be the first Olympics for Vlasic and Niemi, and the second for Marleau and Pavelski. Shortly after the Sharks play Columbus at home Feb. 7 -- the day of the Opening Ceremony in Sochi -- all four will scatter to meet with their respective teams.

From there, each team will only have a certain amount of time to practice together on the ice, as the Americans, Canadians and Team Finland each play their first game Feb. 13.

But both Marleau and Pavelski, and other Sharks who have played in the Olympic Games such as Dan Boyle, said the process of getting a team together and playing at a high level right from the get-go is not as difficult as it might sound.

Like in 2010 for the Vancouver Olympics, Canadians tried to address the chemistry issue this year by picking some players who are already on the same team. For Team Canada, that means going with Anaheim's Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz and Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. The Americans also have familiarity with one another, as 13 players who competed in 2010 are on this year's team.

"There's some built-in chemistry," Marleau said of Team Canada. "Obviously, that had a lot to do with the decision-making."

Boyle added if you're chosen to play on an Olympic team, "you have to be, not just highly skilled, but pretty intelligent, and it really doesn't take much," to come together. "If anything, you just have to learn how to handle the pressure."

That pressure almost boiled over in Vancouver, where Team Canada needed overtime to beat Switzerland in the preliminary round and lost to the Americans, causing more than a little mental anguish in the Great White North.

Canada found its stride in the playoff round, winning four games by a combined score of 21-10, which included a 3-2 overtime win over Pavelski and Team USA in the gold medal game.

The Americans had no chemistry issues to begin with, as they were undefeated up until that game.

"It's just about going out there and playing and getting a little confidence early," Pavelski said. "It's a question. It can change from year to year. We did a good job in Vancouver finding that kind of chemistry.

"I think there will be a few different challenges going on a bigger sheet of ice for everyone out there."

The ice is 200 feet long and 100 feet wide in international hockey, compared with 200 feet by 85 feet in the NHL.

Niemi grew up on it in Finland and doesn't anticipate a difficult transition, even though he hasn't played many competitive games on the wider ice since he came to the NHL in 2008. Pavelski most recently played 28 games in the KHL in Russia during last season's NHL lockout, and Vlasic has some experience playing on the wider ice from playing on Canada's World Championship teams in 2009 and 2012.

Vlasic said defensemen have more time to make plays on the wider rink but added the biggest challenge is positioning, not getting caught up ice and knowing where your net is on a penalty kill.

"Getting into the lanes to block shots will be a challenge, too," Vlasic said. "Your angles are different. But all eight (Canadian) defenseman are really mobile and good defensively."

Positioning is also important for forwards. While Marleau's speed should be a tremendous asset for Team Canada, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Marleau's and Pavelski's ability to anticipate plays and use angles to their advantage will also help them adjust.

"You can take the world's best skater and have him chase the puck around that big ice surface, and he might look lost if he's not anticipating where its going or if he's not playing the proper angles," McLellan said.

"Pav will do those things and he's not the world's best skater. If you can fly around like Patty Marleau does and have Patty's anticipation skills, that's a great thing. But if you don't have Patty's anticipation skills, but all that speed, then it's just like a dog chasing a car on a grid road back in Saskatchewan. You're never going to catch up."

All 12 teams in the men's tournament advance to the playoffs, but from there, it's win or go home.

"It's a short tournament and most of the guys haven't played with each other for a while, so hopefully it doesn't take us two games to get into the tournament," he said, "or else we might be out."

Contact Curtis Pashelka at cpashelka@bayareanewsgroup.com.

OLYMPIC MEN'S ICE HOCKEY MEDAL COUNT

Country Gold Silver Bronze
Canada 8 4 2
Russia* 8 2 2
USA 2 8 1
Sweden 2 2 4
Czech Rep.** 1 4 5
Great Britain 1 0 1
Finland 0 2 3
Switzerland 0 0 2
Germany*** 0 0 2


SOURCE: hockey-history.com
* -- Includes former Soviet Union and Commonwealth of Independent States
**-- Includes former Czechoslovakia
***-- Includes former West Germany

MARC-EDOUARD VLASIC

Pictured: Left Age: 26
Team: Canada Position: Defenseman
Hometown: Montreal, Quebec
Notable: On Vlasic, Canada general manager Steve Yzerman said, "He really moves the puck well. He skates well. Positionally, very, very sound."