Mark Madden: 3ICE hockey debut is a huge success, should lead to changes in NHL overtime

I sat at a long table in a bistro called Bailiwick at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas last Saturday. Joining me: Jay Carboneau, John Leclerc, Joe Mullen, Larry Murphy, Craig Patrick, Brian Trotier. Five famous hockey players. Twenty episodes of the Stanley Cup in between.

For me, this debut in 3ICE hockey was a huge success. I wanted to turn twelve to ask for autographs.

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 three-on-three one-day tournaments featuring six teams made up of junior pros, former teammates and an odd former NHLer (most notably Ryan Malone).

Patrick is the commissioner of 3ICE. Teams train (and are named after) other legends that recreate in Bailiwick plus Grant Fuhr.

Team Mullen defeated Murphy, 7-1, in the championship final on Saturday. Today’s best match was Mullen’s 6-5 penalty shootout victory over Murphy in the first round. Murphy’s side trailed 5-1 but scored four times with the goalkeeper pulled to rig the tie. (This is not a typo. It happened. It was epic.)

Mullen’s team included his son Patrick as well as Tyler Morovitch, who starred in the 2006 state championship team at Mount Lebanon High School.

3ICE is coming to PPG Paints Arena on July 23. It’s a different hockey game, but it’s very entertaining.

You’ve seen overtime in the NHL’s 3-on-Three. This is better. 3ICE uses at least one rule that the NHL must fully embrace. (see below.)

The matches are halves of eight minutes each. Six matches a day. The teams that make the final play three matches.

The confrontations are few. When a goal is scored or the goalkeeper freezes the disc, the disc is immediately restarted.

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

The clock only stops at injuries and penalties. There are no challenges for coaches.

3ICE is designed to never stop.

Three-on-three overtime in the NHL has been slowed down and neutralized by training. Training is the enemy of anything exciting.

When the NHL relied three on a three OT, it initially had an offensive mindset. But then, the coaches developed a strategy: own the ball, change during possession, collect new players on the ice against tired opponents.

That led to what we see a lot: the teams pulled back to their end with a tweak. Change and strategy instead of skill, skateboarding, and excitement.

This is prohibited in 3ICE.

Once you cross the blue line to the opponent’s end, you cannot pass or disc skate behind the midfield. If you do, that’s turnover. It’s like violating the backcourt in basketball.

The NHL should (and probably should) embrace this rule. It makes three against three more exciting and gets it out of the coaches’ grip.

3ICE has television exposure via CBS in the United States and with TSN and RDS in Canada.

It has a chance to grab a niche of followers like the BIG3 Basketball League Three on Three, or the Basketball Tournament. Fewer players, exciting concept.

In the meantime, there is the first 3ICE tournament to make the decision. The winner will receive the Craig Patrick Trophy, named for the league’s commissioner.

Never underestimate what Patrick did for the penguins. Before he hit the arena as the team’s general manager in 1989, the Penguins had Mario Lemieux but they couldn’t win. By the time his term expired in 2006, the Penguins had won two Stanley Cups, one President’s Cup, and five divisional titles. He made a series of daring trades that lifted penguins to great heights.

Patrick is a hockey royal and a fan of the sports life. Now, aged 76, he’s part of a different concept that’s giving the game a new boost. It seems appropriate.

(I’m 12 years old got Patrick’s signature as a kid. He was playing for the California Gold Team.)