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New Pro Hockey League Set To Debut in 2021

The independent hockey league, 3ICE, plans to begin play in the summer of 2021. It will consist of two halves, each eight minutes with a running clock. There are no penalties, only penalty shots, and faceoffs are discouraged.

The league announced their eight head coaches early this week and they went with star power. They have hall of famers like Guy Carbonneau, Grant Fuhr, Joe Mullen, Larry Murphy, Angela Ruggiero and Bryan Trottier as well as former NHLers John LeClair and Ed Johnston.

Johnston’s son, EJ, is the league founder and CEO.

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Craig Patrick, a former NHL player, head coach, general manager and current scout with the Pittsburgh Penguins will be the commissioner.

“We’re anticipating that we’re going to be able to have a lot of exciting hockey,” Patrick told USA Today. “Even more than the NHL’s overtime format, because we’re going to go for a lot of speed and skill throughout and we’re going to look at different rules that enable that to happen more frequently in our game. It’s just an exciting venture for me.”

The league will have eight teams consisting of six skaters and one goalie. The 3ICE schedule begins in June, lasts nine weeks, and will play in a different city each weekend. The league has a short list of 15-20 cities, mainly in Canada, Northeastern USA and the Midwest, and they will decide in the coming months which cities they will play in.

They will be looking for creative, highly skilled players with NHL pedigrees — some who played a few seasons in the NHL, or ones who didn’t stick in the NHL due to a lack of size.

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Three-on-three is more about speed and creativity, and I’m curious which rules Patrick will implement. Will we see a shot clock, or an over-and-back rule preventing teams from re-grouping past centre ice?

Whatever rules they implement, if they make the format more exciting, I could see the NHL adding those rules to their overtime three-on-three format.

I asked four-time Stanley Cup winner Larry Murphy, who is an analyst for the Detroit Red Wings, what are his expectations for the league.

“Everybody loves the three-on-three hockey in overtime in the National Hockey league,” said Murphy. “It’s exciting, and basically that’s the format where you’re going to play. it’s going to be wide open. Craig Patrick, the commissioner of the league asked me in January if I would be interested in it and I said let me take a look. I was intrigued because three-on-three, it’s just exciting.  It is wide open hockey, lots of scoring chances, the games are going to be short. It’s set up like Formula One racing. You have eight teams and you just travel to different cities. It’s a nine-week schedule, and we play basically a bracket tournament, where it goes eight down to four, and then down to the two teams who play in the final game for that week.”

What about his strategy as a coach?

“It’s interesting. I’ve never coached on the pro level before,” said Murphy. “I work for Fox Sports Detroit, and I’ll be watching as much three-on-three hockey as I can, and be talking to as many people as I can (laughs). Job number one is the draft, where I have to decide what type of player I’m looking for. Each team has six skaters and one goalie, so you basically have two lines. In terms of managing your bench it is basically three players and then the other three guys. You can’t really shorten your bench — its short enough as it is. It is all about risk management. How much risk do you want your players to take? Usually if you get a scoring opportunity and you don’t score, the opposition then gets their kick at the can.

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The whole concept is intriguing. I’ve got ideas about my approach behind the bench. We’re going to have players who played in Europe, we’ll have players in the NHL that might be coming off a contract, they’re in that situation where they’ll probably be getting a tryout (PTO) with a club.  Every club has one or two guys each season who come in as a tryout. We expect that those players will play in our league for exposure, plus the ability to play the game and stay sharp. Finding talent is not going to be an issue for this league and its going to be set up for wide open, fast-paced hockey with very few stoppages.”

Murphy mentioned the draft. Each coach will be the GM as well and draft their teams.

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 “I’m wearing both hats,” said Murphy. “The players are going to be known commodities. They’re going to be coming out of college or guys who played in the NHL or Europe. It’s not an open call, it’s not like “come on try out.” You have to be invited. I think the number is going to be around 100 guys. It’s going to be a weekend camp where they bring them in, split them up, and then the draft will be held. All the players will be signed before they get there (the weekend tryout). They know what the pay will be going into the season if they make a team, but they could also be released right after camp. Contracts will be looked after prior to the tryouts, so once they make the commitment to come to the tryout then, if they make it we’ll go and play.”

WILL YOU WATCH?

​Three-on-three is exciting, at any level, and with only 16 minutes of playing time, the time commitment to watch isn’t very much. The games will be broadcast on TSN and CBS. Having a TV deal is huge for the league. It will pique my interest and I will watch the first few weekends. 

I sense kids will love this format with end-to-end action, and many parents will watch with their kids. The league has to make tickets ultra-affordable if they want people in the stands. They would be wise to play in smaller venues to start and try to sell them out.

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The challenge will be signing a few players who have name recognition. If the league can land a few of those, more fans will be tune in for the first weekend, and after that the quality of play will determine how many fans continue to watch. I believe we will see some highly skilled players, many who will be looking to showcase their skills to NHL teams, who will undoubtedly be watching.

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Will you watch?

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR