Strategies and Tips for 3-on-3 Hockey

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.

Skate HARD

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?



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  1. Veronica said on March 18, 2012

    i’ve never played 3 on 3. but today is my first game and i’m a little nervous!

    • Quinner said on March 22, 2012

      Nerves are normal, everybody gets them, that means your in tbe right frame of mind, the key is to believe you will get the puck. Can’t say that enough, will yourself the puck it works.
      Quinner #27

  2. Bryan said on May 3, 2012

    We have an Iron Man tournament on May 19. 3v3, great pointers, and hopefully give us an advantage. inline hockey is the next best thing for us.

  3. Roro said on February 28, 2013

    I visit this link to refresh my 3 on 3 strategy.
    There isn’t a lot of strategic information in regards to 3 on 3 on the net so thanks for taking the time to post.

    I did not play any hockey prior to 3 on 3.
    Though I was very glad that I practiced Rollerblading and stick handling a summer before I eased into 3 on 3 ice… I find that it’s been a great introduction to hockey. Especially in terms of being eased into something I wasn’t familiar with.

    There is a mix of talent on our team, and most of the players like playing both kinds of hockey.
    In 3 on 3 you get possession more, which seems to be the big appeal for our 5 on 5 guys.

    A tip I’d like to share (and that also may seem ridiculous to compare to) is the fact I play NHL10, 11, 12 on my xbox which actually do give a good idea of how to play a position, as well as the bad results if you do it poorly. I was surprised how mcuh I learned about basic positioning.

    Thanks again for the tips!

  4. MamaRinkRat said on March 23, 2013

    Hello fellow hockey freaks! I was quite please when I stumbled across this website last summer – it’s exactly how I coach youth 3v3 X-ice. Adjustments I’ve made on the fly:

    Novice/choking goalie: Unless your C (rover) is freakishly fast, have him/her hang back a little more defensively – don’t get sucked up in their house / crash the net, this way the C will be in instant position to back check & your troubled goalie will always have 2 D to helping out.

    Take pot shots at their net *from any & every where on the ice* a passing game is wonderful but if the kids aren’t quite at that level – the D man is allowed to bomb or rainbow it in from the corner.

    Novice/timid skater: I play ’em F never D or C with a strong positional C. You can deal w/a non-scoring shift. I want kids to have fun while learning & if they are put in a position where goals are scored against them b/c of their weakness, psychologically, both teammates & the skater will get upset at his/her own lack of skill. I don’t put them in the position to get beat up & want to quit.

    I want kids to have a positive competitive experience & Love Hockey for Life 😛

  5. Mizu said on April 25, 2013

    3v3 or 4v4 can be crazy fast and deadly exhausting, I like it very much!:)

    As an amateur icehockey fellowship we like to play for fun: lot of dekes (or tries), passing until empty net, just for laugh and beauty of the play, no serious.
    But on a tournaments we try to follow some tactics like you wrote above (behind the opponent’s net, dedicated defenseman and so on, lot more shooting on goal).

    And yeah, one important thing yet: triangle everywhere and rotate it! It needs a lot of skating but you’ll find a teammate in goalscoring positions quite often.

    Anyway thanks for your site, it’s great and very helpful!

  6. Johnny McCarron said on January 26, 2017

    I like your advice to shoot more. I think that a lot of people are just shy when it comes to shooting. However, eveyone misses occasionally. You have to learn how to keep shooting even if you miss occasionally. Do you have any other tips about playing ball hockey better?

  7. Joel said on April 25, 2018

    Very good tips, I would have add the fact that you need a goalie that play the puck very well and very often. Having the puck on your goalie stick often cause an opponent to leave his “man to man” coverage on the forecheck because it’s always tempting to press the goalie when he’s playing it. Having a player not covered on the breakout will give you an edge on the other team everytime.

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