Those of you who play pick-up hockey on a regular basis are probably familiar with the fast-paced style of 3-on-3. For roller hockey players used to 4-on-4, three man hockey isn’t much of a stretch. However, if you’ve grown up playing traditional five-on-five ice hockey, you may be venturing into uncharted territory.
Last week my team won a 3-on-3 ice hockey tournament. (That’s me holding the cup in the photo below.) We took a victory lap then gave it back to the ice arena, so they could re-use it for next month’s prize It was still a ton of fun and for a moment we all felt like a million bucks.
We didn’t win because we were the best; trust me. I thought I’d share a few tips of what I think helped us be successful.
Designate a Stay-at-Home Defenseman
Wide open breakaways are the number one reason goals are scored in a game of 3-on-3. Having a disciplined d-man that won’t creep much further than center ice will be good insurance against a quick breakout.
Use Your Point Man
If you follow the first tip, you’ll find your point will be open for a quick shot that will get the puck to the net. Even if it doesn’t get past the goalie, there’s a good chance it will be deflected and one of the forwards will pick up the trash.
Take More Shots
Speaking of getting the puck to the net, take more shots! When you’re playing in a tighter space, nearly every spot on the ice puts you within range of the goal. Most 3-on-3 games eliminate icing and offside violations, so even if you’re shot completely misses the net, you just put the puck in your attacking zone.
Work the Area Behind Your Opponent’s Goal
Goalies have a lot to worry about in 3-on-3 hockey. A change of possession means they have to be ready for anything. With one player behind the net, the goalie has to worry about a quick wrap around, as well as two passing options. Taking advantage of this situation can result in an easy goal.
Spread Out the Ice
Maintain a triangle formation. With your stay-at-home defender, this shouldn’t be too hard. If you’re playing up, make sure you balance out your fellow forward. Breakouts happen quick, so once you’re confident your teammate has possession of the puck, make a break for the net.
In 3-on-3 hockey, the neutral zone is pretty much non-existent. Don’t let your opponent get any momentum! Stop the play at it’s roots by forechecking immediately after losing possession of the puck in your attacking zone. Do not, however, get caught chasing your opponent behind his own net. Unless you have blinding speed, chances are you”ll get wasted trying to chase down the puck carrier.
The nature of this game involves a lot of back-and-forth play. If you stand in one spot, it will be easier for one guy to guard you and your teammate at the same time. This is not an offensive strategy you want to have. By constantly keeping your feet moving, you’ll be harder to guard. You’ll also have momentum when an inevitable turnover occurs.
In conclusion. some of the most fun games I’ve ever played have been 3-on-3. Although I love the science and strategy involved in playing with a full roster, there’s just something about 3-on-3 that captures the raw essence of sweat-til-you-drop hockey. Have you ever played on a 3-man team? What did you think?