YORKTON - The development of 3-on-3 hockey has been seen as everything from an abomination by some fans, to an exciting new opportunity to grow the sport by others.
E.J. Johnston would certainly fall into the category of those seeing huge potential in ice hockey with fewer players and shorter game times, but potentially more action and goals too.
Johnston is Chief Executive Officer with 3ICE, a new sports league which will go city-to-city with a number of 3-on-3 teams playing day-long style tournaments. The league was planned to launch in 2021, but that was put on-hold amid the COVID pandemic, but is now set to launch June 18 in Las Vegas, with eight events planned leading up to the championship Sept. 20, again in Vegas. London, ON. July 16, and Quebec City July 30, are the Canadian spots on the schedule.
Now set to finally launch Johnston said he is feeling “a perfect cocktail” of emotions suggesting it is like his baby finally being born and introduced to the world leaving him with feelings of “hope, joy, excitement, fear.”
Getting to this point has been “extremely difficult,” given the pandemic, Johnston told Yorkton This Week in a recent interview. “It’s been very difficult but we knew we had something special here.”
While noting “the lockdowns were hard for everybody,” and adding that was especially true of new enterprises, it was a case of having faith that their concept for 3-on-3 hockey would be successful, so they persevered.
“Any challenges . . . we found solutions,” said Johnston.
So what does Johnston see as making 3ICE set for success?
To start with goals will be “incentivised,” he said.
For example, teams will play three games to start each day’s action, the winners moving on, as will the team that scored the most goals in their loss, a goal of the day will come with a bonus.
And, the game will be about non-stop action, for example pucks will be live off the protective netting, penalties will automatically be a penalty shot, and there will be no face-offs after a goal, just a quick reset and go.
“We want to keep things flowing really quickly,” said Johnston.
Try-outs for players are set for Vegas in April. Johnston said they are targeting three pools of potential talent, former National Hockey League players ages roughly 31-35, North American players now playing overseas who are generally going to be 26-33, and then about 20 per cent of players coming from Canadian and U.S. colleges who are 22-26.
From the camp six teams with a total roster of 42 players will be selected, along with a couple of emergency goaltenders and an eight-to-10 player taxi squad.
Rosters will begin to be revealed in May.
Johnston said games are set to air on TSN in Canada, CBS Sports in the U.S., and to 185 countries around the world via ESPN.
While 3ICE hopes the idea of 3-on-3 hockey can carve out a summertime niche, there is also growing interest in the game internationally.
Shortly after completion of the recent Winter Olympics a story came out suggesting a possibility 3-on-3 hockey could serve as a secondary event at future similar to the recent addition of 3-on-3 basketball at the Summer Olympics, or the mixed double curling competitions.
The idea appears to have interest from Olympic organizers who have long held interest in adding more events to its roster, hence the rather quick addition of mixed doubles curling, and from the International Ice Hockey Federation too.
It is unlikely 3-on-3 hockey will be ready for the 2026 Olympics, the timeframe would be rather tight to make that happen but it is apparently very much on the agenda for the IOC and IIHF, and it will return to the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics in Gangwon, South Korea.
One could certainly see 3-on-3 hockey being a full medal sport by the 2030 Winter Olympics.
Johnston suggested adding 3-on-3 hockey to the Olympics was “a no-brainer,” adding he doesn’t see why it would take until 2030. “I’ll be surprised if it takes that long. I think they should probably have it as a trial sport at the next Olympics.”
Johnston said he sees 3-on-3 being successful at the Olympics for the same reasons as for 3ICE, “it’s the best part of hockey,” likening it to “tack meet, hair on fire, up and down hockey.”
The quick games fit the attention span of today’s fan too.
“A word I use is ‘snackable.’ It’s fun, innovative and ‘snackable’,” said Johnston.