(ATR) Nothing like it has ever been seen in 100 years of Olympic ice hockey.
With 13 players from 13 different countries comprising teams, 3-on-3 ice hockey is extraordinarily unique, pushing boundaries as far as event formats go.
"We made history yesterday – the first sensation we got is that this is really dynamic," said Luc Tardif, the IIHF tournament director regarding the first day of 3-on-3 at the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games on Friday. "Basketball plays 3-on-3, rugby went 15 to seven and now is the time for our experimentation."
At times, communication between teammates can be difficult both on and off the ice. However, in the spirit of the Winter Youth Olympic Games, the mixed NOC format lends itself to quickly forging friendships with fellow foreign athletes.
"I kind of got mad at my Italian teammate and started yelling at her in French...she looked at me weird and I was like oh yeah, speak English," said 15-year-old French hockey player Annie Sommer. "It’s really cool to meet so many players from other nations."
"You have 11 players who don’t speak the same language – you’ve got guys from the Czech Republic playing with guys from Mexico," Tardif said. "The big surprise is that after just one game that’s a team."
The 3-on-3 format – with games contested on less than half of a standard international ice surface – is fast, furious and creates plentiful scoring chances and rapid transitions up-and-down the ice.
"There is more technique with 3-on-3 and you shoot a lot more than 5-on-5, so I find it quite fun and cool to play," Sommer said.
"The players love it, the coaches love it, the fans and people in social media like the format," said Aku Nieminen, an IIHF delegate who helped develop 3-on-3. "There is constant action with the smaller ice – there’s a 2-on-1 attack and suddenly after a shot, there’s another 2-on-1 the other way."
Rules and Competition Format
Two cross-ice contests are being played simultaneously with the ice rink divided in two. Game clocks run simultaneously without stoppage of play for goals or penalties. There are three periods of 16 minutes per game.
Line changes are mandatory after every minute signaled by buzzers rather than coaches. Goalies switch net midway through each period. Both rules insure that all players receive equal ice time.
Eight men’s and eight women’s games were contested on Saturday at Vaudoise Arena in Lausanne. The tight schedule began at 9 a.m. proceeding nearly non-stop until 10 p.m. at night.
The eight men’s and eight women’s teams competing in the Lausanne 2020 tournament are identified by colors. Naturally, there are players from traditional hockey powers like Russia, Finland and the Czech Republic, but also Qatar, Mexico and Argentina. Players from the U.S., Canada and Sweden are not participating.
"It’s interesting – the guy from Japan has very soft hands and the guy from Argentina is a very fast skater," said Matthias Rindone, an Italian goalie for Team Black. "Every day our team is coming together, our spirit is getting better."
Time for Change at Lausanne 2020
At the previous two editions of the Winter Youth Olympic Games, the IIHF staged individual hockey skills competitions.
Nieminen is thrilled about the change of format for Lausanne 2020.
"Initially, the idea was that we were going to a demonstration sport, but after discussions with the IOC everyone got excited and it was decided that it would be a medal event," Nieminen said.
Tardif, an IIHF Council member and president of the French ice hockey federation, discussed the implementation of the unfamiliar format for Lausanne 2020.
"We had to prepare and organize a serious competition in the spirit of the Youth Olympic Games," Tardif said. "I think it’s been very well done for what the IOC and the IIHF expected."
Tardif says he hopes to see more 3-on-3 – the format used in overtime games in the National Hockey League and other pro leagues – further utilized at IIHF competitions with traditional hockey nations facing off.
"That’s the future – I think there is a lot of open space for more 3-on-3," he said.
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Lausanne
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