3ICE, North America’s newest 3ICE, North America’s newest professional 3-on-3 hockey league is calling its first season a success ahead of the league’s playoff weekend.
“It’s absolutely a home run from pretty much every metric,” said 3ICE founder and CEO E.J. Johnston of the league’s inaugural season. “We had to make sure we had an excellent on-ice product, and that our television broadcast looked great, and we think we nailed that. We’re really, really pleased. We think we’ve got a rocketship here and that it’s only going to grow.”
The August 20 championship will see the league’s top four teams playing off in Las Vegas with USD 1 million in prize money on the line. Team Mullen, coached by Hockey Hall of Fame member Joe Mullen, enters as the top seed having compiled a 16-5 record. The next best teams, Team Trottier and Team LeClair, are both a game over .500.
Each team was named for a former NHL star who also acts as coach of their respective team. According to longtime Philadelphia Flyers standout John LeClair, he feels fans have embraced the skill and creativity they’ve seen this season.
“I thought the pace, the creativity, the competitiveness of the games was far beyond my expectations. I thought it was a really good year,” said LeClair. “Watching these guys and their creativity, they’re trying trick plays, it’s been really fun to watch.”
This season's top performers include former NHL players Joe Whitney and TJ Hensick and a group of players who excelled in the ECHL in recent years - Brandon Hawkins, Tyler Murovich, Kevin Fitzgerald, and Chad Costello. In net, ECHL goaltenders, Jeremy Brodeur and Jake Theut have been the league’s top stoppers.
While 3ICE’s first season is closing, Johnston wants fans to know the league will not be a one-and-done venture. Next year, the group plans to follow the same model, but there are also plans for expansion overseas and at the youth level as soon as 2024.
“We’ll rinse and repeat next year,” said Johnston. “Then we want to start taking a look at our version of the Little League World Series, 3ICE Kids as a made for TV property and 3ICE Europe, which will be the next expansion options.”
Johnston has other plans, which could involve eSports and a World Cup version of the 3-on-3 game. He sees that format as a growth market in the sport.
“The 3-on-3 overtime that pretty much every league in the world went to is the proof of concept, we think it’s the best part of hockey,” said Johnston. “You also have youth sports and clinics all over the place happening as 3-on-3. I think it will happen at the Oympics… the IOC almost certainly will have a 3-on-3 Olympic version of this sooner than later. I know it’s here to stay.”
As a veteran of 967 NHL games, a Stanley Cup champion, and two-time NHL First Team All-Star, John LeClair has been around the game a long time, and he echoes Johnston’s confidence in the league and 3-on-3 hockey as a whole moving forward successfully.
“It’s absolutely sustainable. People enjoy it in the summer when they have the itch for hockey, it’s a great cure for them. I just see 3ICE continuing to grow.”
The August 20 playoffs will be televised nationally on CBS, TSN, RDS, and ESPN.