The new 3ICE touring hockey league has launched its inaugural season and will make its first stop in Canada this Saturday, July 16, at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario at 3:00 p.m. ET.
3ICE has crafted its rule-set to keep the action going at all times. Each event has all six 3ICE teams playing through a mini-tournament, with each game consisting of two, eight-minute periods using a running clock on a full-sized (NHL sized) rink. The clock stops only for penalties and injuries. No one goes to a penalty box, instead, penalties all result in a penalty shot. Each team has seven players (including one goalie).
The running clock means game stay fluid, with delays from faceoffs removed as the puck is simply dropped for one of the teams to play as quickly as possible after a goal, or whenever the puck goes over the glass or into the netting. The whole event from puck drop in the very first game through the end of the title match takes about exactly three hours.
It’s designed to be family friendly in that way by keeping the action moving on time, and it naturally lends itself to social media moments with 3-on-3 hockey allowing more creativity for players to make all those highlight reels moves we all like.
As an example, see this lacrosse-style move from earlier this month by Brandon Hawkins, who played in both the ECHL and AHL last season.
Many of the players who signed up for 3ICE have ECHL and AHL experience, as well as experience in European leagues, and some even have NHL experience as well. These are not local beer league players, they are long time pros.
I spoke to 3ICE CEO and Founder E.J. Johnston about the league and how he developed the idea. It all started when he attended some NHL rookie camps.
“The light-bulb moment for me was being at the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils rookie camps,” noting this was one year after the NHL adopted 3-on-3 overtime hockey.
The NHL switched from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 overtime at the start of the 2015-16 season, and both in advance of and after that many teams would end their public rookie camps and pre-season games with demonstration events of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, both as much because the fans love it, but also so the players and coaches can test out strategies.
“I was skeptical at the beginning of it,” said Johnston, but his mind was quickly changed by the crowd in attendance when the 3-on-3 started. “The place is packed ... and I’m watching the fans oohing and awing and getting on their feet and cheering,” noting that as the moment he came up with the idea of his new league. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” he said about how all the fans loved the “creativity, speed, risk taking, nifty mittens, all of these great adjectives about hockey.” The seed was planted.
This was also a time when other sports and sports leagues already had started to develop new business models that were entering the market. “You’ve got in the background Big3 basketball as a success, Rugby Sevens as a success, Formula E as a success; these snackable versions of these other leagues; the XFL was on the horizon.”
Johnston said he took some time to speak to potential stakeholders to verify his idea could be manifested into a successful business; running his ideas by media executives, hockey executives, and actual hockey players. “After about a year, I put my foot on the gas, and the rest is history.”
Obviously, given the timelines, it’s easy to see that there was a delay because of the global pandemic, but 3ICE has now launched its inaugural season and already completed the first four weeks of events. “We really took our time on this, we hired experts in each category,” he said about the COVID situation.
As to what kind of hockey you will see in London tomorrow and at the other events, Johnston says “It’s a bunch of Ferraris and Maseratis zipping around the ice,” adding the fast paced format with as little breaks in the action as possible thanks to 3ICE rules means “it is just go go go.”
As for the format for 3ICE, “we play a bracket style tournament and crown a winner that night.” The six teams play an opening round and the three winners move on along with what Johnston calls “the lucky loser” which is the one of the three losing teams which scored the most goals (there is an official tie breaking procedure). Then the four teams play through a semi-final and a final to determine the week’s champions. Having a winner each week is a satisfying payoff for the crowd, but also these players are playing for real dollars. Of course, all the players get something, but the champions get paid, so there is a vested interest for all the players to play their best at each event, and also to hype up the crowd and get you involved on the side of their team. Fan engagement is a high priority for both the players and the off-ice 3ICE staff at each event.
Tickets for the London event tomorrow are available at this website.
Links to tickets for all future events are here:
The tour has already made four stops in Las Vegas, Denver, Grand Rapids MI, and Hershey PA. After this weekend’s event in London the tour will make a stop in Pittsburgh, and then return to Canada for a stop in Quebec City before going to Nashville, and then a final event back in Las Vegas where they will play for the Patrick Cup, or “The Patty,” named after the league commissioner.
The final 3ICE event in Las Vegas is on August 20. In Canada, you can watch 3ICE through a TSN online subscription.