3-on-3 hockey league launches could be a step towards the Olympics

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Hours before Canada beat the United States to win gold in women’s hockey at the Beijing Olympics in February, International Ice Hockey Federation officials lamented having only two medals on the biggest sports scene.

The IIHF and IOC have been discussing adding to that, and a new 3-on-3 league that debuted earlier this month could be another step towards more hockey globally. With Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier, Grant Fuhr, Joe Mullen and Larry Murphy among the coaches and fast-paced games with plenty of goals, 3ICE is another experiment that could make 3-on-3 a part of the future at long term hockey.

“We want to get this thing off the ground and make sure it’s entertaining – there’s the entertainment aspect to the extent that we can possibly give it and give it some credence,” said Trottier, who won the Stanley Cup. six times as a player. “We would all be grateful for the opportunity to grow with this to the point where it becomes bigger, better, Olympic, global: wherever growth prevails.”

Seven years after the NHL adopted 3-on-3 overtime in the regular season, 3ICE founder EJ Johnston has big ideas for internationalizing it and possibly hosting a youth tournament like the Petite World Series. Baseball League and the annual adult world championships.

Commissioner Craig Patrick, consecutive Cup winner in 1991 and 1992 as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins and gold medalist as assistant coach of the American team “Miracle On Ice” in 1980, was impressed by talent available since tryouts in April and sees room for 3-on-3 hockey to carve out a place in a crowded entertainment landscape.

“A lot of sports are going towards short-type things, and that’s kind of what we are, like BIG3 basketball,” Patrick said. “There is a cricket league in India which is very popular and doing very, very well. There’s rugby sevens. Everyone does something a little different in their sport, and we think that’s the way forward for hockey.

He is not alone in this thought. After 3-on-3 basketball made its debut as an Olympic event in Tokyo last year, new IIHF President Luc Tardif has set a goal to do the same for the hockey.

It may not happen as soon as 2026 in Milan and Cortina, a men’s tournament that is expected to welcome NHL players again after two Olympics without them, but 3-on-3 has been tried at the Youth Olympic Games in winter in Lausanne in 2020 and will get another look with more serious competition at the same event in South Korea in 2024.

“Maybe we can have a format more suited to a new audience,” Tardif said. “We’re still going to play traditional ice hockey, but why not try to find a new format?”

The format is set to kick off with high scores for 3ICE, with matches averaging nearly eight goals each.

“3-on-3 is always fun to watch, the pace is high and it’s exciting for the fans,” said Fuhr, who led Edmonton to four Stanley Cup titles in the 1980s. great league for guys to showcase their talent. Whether they’re looking for another contract, looking for a place to play in Europe, it gives them an opportunity, which would usually be during an offseason, to get out there and show people the skills they have.

Former New Jersey Devils forward Joe Whitney is the leading scorer in a league that also includes former NHL winger TJ Hensick and goaltenders like Martin Brodeur’s son Jeremy and Ryan Zapolski, who was the American starter at the 2018 Olympics.

Assuming the NHL resumes regular participation in the Olympics, a 3-on-3 tournament could provide additional spots for players.

“The skills are, in some ways, so different to play 3-on-3 versus 5-on-5 full contact,” said Parker Milner, who is a goalkeeper in 3ICE after the pandemic abruptly ended his underage playing career. . “You get the chance to introduce other guys, and there would be other skills that would come in handy for 3v3.”

Another incentive: the 3 on 3 could bring more countries to get involved in hockey. Tardif pointed out that it is easier for some national federations to put together rosters of 12 or 13 players than the 22 or more needed for traditional hockey.

“3-on-3 opportunities could be great for smaller countries that aren’t able to get the full squad and it could be a starting platform to grow and really show hockey in many other cities,” said IIHF senior vice president Petr. Briza said.

For now, those cities are Las Vegas and Denver, which hosted the first two weekends of games, with upcoming stops in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Canada before returning to Las Vegas for the playoffs on August 20.

Milner said it was a good opportunity to continue playing hockey all summer after the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. He added that some changes to 3ICE rules, particularly players unable to get the puck over the red line, could work in the NHL to make overtime even better.

“At least in the first two weeks we saw that it created a kind of top-down game,” he said. “I know a lot of people are complaining about the shootings. I think you would definitely see a lot less shootouts if they were able to implement that.

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Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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