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Could a 3-on-3 Hockey Format Work in the Olympics?

Two gold medals were handed out for ice hockey this year at the Winter Olympics. That number could soon grow to four medals if the IOC and IIHF get their wish.
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Two gold medals were handed out for ice hockey this year at the Winter Olympics. That number could soon grow to four medals if the IOC and IIHF get their wish.

The additional medals could soon come from the Winter Olympics 3-on-3 hockey as a new event.

As current IIHF president Luc Tardif stated late last year about a 3-on-3 hockey event, “We really believe in it. I think it’s important to bring a new format. At the moment, the kids are zapping [between channels]. They’d rather play a one-hour game twice than play two-and-a-half hours. They’re following on TV four games at a time. So, we have to try to bring a new format.”

The possibility of a 3-on-3 tournament would serve as a secondary event to the traditional team competition, similar to the recent addition of 3-on-3 basketball at the Summer Olympics, or the mixed double curling competitions.

Tardif is taking up the cause started by former IIHF president Rene Fasel. Fasel was a proponent of the format, giving it a test run at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

Although it’s unlikely 3-on-3 hockey will be ready for the 2026 Olympics, it is definitely a sport on the IOC and IIHF’s radar, and will return to the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics in Gangwon, South Korea.

“We would like to have 3-on-3 at Gangwon 2024,” said Fasel, “And when I speak with my people in the federation, there are some that are very enthusiastic about having it at the senior level. We should not be against the evolution of our sport like basketball has done. It is a lot of fun.”

The NHL and PHF utilize 3-on-3 overtime already, and 3-on-3 overtime was used at the Winter Olympics this year meaning most of the world’s elite players have already played, and are practicing the format.

While the NHL and PWHPA elite are likely to stay with the traditional hockey entry, 3-on-3 could provide an opportunity for additional NHL and PHF participation, as well as for entries from more countries into the Olympics. Depth starved countries who have struggled to earn entry into the Games could potentially field 3-on-3 teams using only their top talent.

At the NHL level, 3-on-3 overtime has proven to demonstrate new strategies and alignments than the traditional game. Following the institution of 3-on-3 overtime in 2015-2016, more than 60% of all games reaching overtime have ended without a shootout. In other words, 3-on-3 hockey is a freewheeling format that promotes scoring.

The format has received overwhelming support from NHL players, with a 2019 NHLPA poll revealing that 97% of players prefer the 3-on-3 overtime format.

At the Youth Olympics, 3-on-3 games were played cross-ice, although this format may not be feasible with larger senior players. The games also enforced a no body checking rule, although body contact was allowed similar to current rules in women’s Olympic hockey.

According to the IIHF, 3-on-3 Olympic hockey could become a reality by 2030, and as IIHF president Luc Tardif says, adding to hockey’s medal count is a positive development.

"More medals for hockey, that's not bad.”

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