Mark Madden: Debut of 3ICE hockey a raging success, should spark changes to NHL overtime

I sat at a long table in a gastropub called Bailiwick at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas this past Saturday. Joining me: Guy Carbonneau, John LeClair, Joe Mullen, Larry Murphy, Craig Patrick, Bryan Trottier. Five Hockey Hall-of-Famers. Twenty Stanley Cup rings between everybody.

For me, that made the debut of 3ICE hockey a raging success. Twelve-year-old me wanted to ask for autographs.

The hockey was great, too.

3ICE hockey is the brainchild of EJ Johnston, son of NHL/Penguins legend Eddie. It’s a nine-week series of one-day three-on-three tournaments featuring six teams composed of minor pros, ex-collegians and the odd former NHLer (most notably Ryan Malone).

Patrick is the 3ICE commissioner. The teams are coached (and named after) the other legends recreating at Bailiwick plus Grant Fuhr.

Mullen’s team beat Murphy’s, 7-1, in Saturday’s tournament final. The day’s best game was Mullen’s 6-5 shootout win over Murphy in the first round. Murphy’s team trailed 5-1 goal scored four times with the goalie pulled to forge a tie. (That’s not a typo. That happened. It was epic.)

Mullen’s team featured his son Patrick as well as Tyler Murovich, who starred for Mt. Lebanon High School’s 2006 state championship team.

3ICE comes to PPG Paints Arena July 23. It’s different hockey, but extremely entertaining.

You’ve seen the NHL’s three-on-three overtime. This is better. 3ICE uses at least one rule the NHL should absolutely adopt. (See below.)

Games are two eight-minute halves. Six games on the day. Teams making the final play three games.

Faceoffs are minimal. When a goal is scored or the goaltender freezes the puck, the disc is put right back into play.

Every penalty is a penalty shot. If the shot is missed, the puck remains in play.

The clock only stops on injuries and penalties. There are no coaches’ challenges.

3ICE is designed to never stop.

The NHL’s three-on-three overtime has been slowed and neutralized by coaching. Coaching is the enemy of anything exciting.

When the NHL adopted three-on-three OT, it was initially attack-minded. But then coaches developed a strategy: Possess the puck, change while in possession, and get fresh players on the ice against the opposition’s tired players.

That led to what we see way too much: Teams retreating into their own end with the puck. Changing and strategizing instead of skill, skating and excitement.

That’s outlawed in 3ICE.

Once you cross the blue line into the opposition’s end, you can’t pass or skate the puck behind the center line. If you do, it’s a turnover. It’s like a backcourt violation in basketball.

The NHL should (and likely will) adopt that rule. It makes three-on-three much more exciting and takes it out of the coaches’ stranglehold.

3ICE has TV exposure via CBS in the US and with TSN and RDS in Canada.

It has a chance to grab a niche following like the BIG3 three-on-three basketball league, or The Basketball Tournament. Lesser players, exciting concept.

In the meantime, there’s the first 3ICE championship to decide. The winner will be awarded the Craig Patrick Cup, named after the league’s commissioner.

Never underestimate what Patrick did for the Penguins. Before he arrived on the scene as the team’s GM in 1989, the Penguins had Mario Lemieux but still couldn’t win. By the time his tenure ended in 2006, the Penguins had won two Stanley Cups, one Presidents’ Trophy and five division titles. He made a series of gutsy trades that elevated the Penguins to great heights.

Patrick is hockey royalty and one of the sports lifers. Now, at 76, he’s part of a different concept that gives the game a new push. It seems fitting.

(Twelve-year-old me got Patrick’s autograph when I was a kid. He was playing for the California Golden Seals.)

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