By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Brought to life by the NHL in 2015, the high-flying excitement of 3-on-3 overtime has had fans on the edge of their seats at those moments when a game remains tied after three periods. Now, a new league is hoping to have fans in that position from the very beginning of the game.
The recently launched 3HL Tour, the brainchild of entrepreneur Justin Fox, is looking to become the country’s newest pro hockey league, and an alternative for those younger players who my have outgrown junior hockey and don’t want to travel to the United States.
“It’s an opportunity for the players. We want to make this a viable alternative as a pro hokey league to the southern U.S. or overseas,” Fox says.
The idea came to Fox while watching the excitement of the NHL’s overtime format, which switched to 3-on-3 for the 2015 season. Now, with eight teams from across the GTA, including Milton, Guelph, Kitchener, Newmarket, London, Toronto, Markham and the local Oshawa 88’s, the league kicked off its inaugural season on Jan. 1 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (formerly Maple Leaf Gardens) in Toronto.
Operating similar to the NCAA’s March Madness, the eight teams face off in an elimination style bracket for an opportunity to take home portions of the $15,000 purse. Portions of the proceeds are also donated to March of Dimes Canada and Prostate Cancer Canada.
The games are set up similar to the Rugby 7s, popularized at the most recent Olympics in Rio, that sees the teams compete in two seven-minute halfs with a one-minute break in between.
It’s the quick style of play that Fox hopes becomes the league’s trademark among fans.
“The urgency to get it done is there, so the play will just be non-stop go,” he says.
Although it may be a little different than what many hockey fans may be used to, Mitch Scott, the captain of the Oshawa 88’s, says the opening day went as “good as we could hope for,” with almost 500 people showing up.
“Being a brand new league, attempting to become a professional league, there’s always skepticism from the players’ standpoint and from the people who are coming to watch it,” Scott says.
And while the 88’s were knocked out of the first round on New Year’s Day, Scott says the team is still learning and is planning on bulking up their roster with more experience as the tour progresses. The teams will hit the ice at the Tribute Communities Centre on Jan. 21 at 3 p.m.
Scott notes that while he’s a native of Collingwood, many of the other players on the team are from the Oshawa area.
“It’s going to be a home game for most of the guys on the team,” he says. “It would be nice to get some of the family and friends out.”
Along with a little home-ice advantage, Scott and is team are looking to find new strategies to be successful in a 3-on-3 environment, where any small mistakes can turn into goals for the opposition.
“It’s something that, as a team, we’ve talked quite a bit about,” he says. “Each of the teams that we play against are completely different.”
While some teams choose to take the high-flying approach and a full-on attack, others choose a more defensive approach, with each player sticking to their zone.
“I’ve watched almost every single overtime game this year for the NHL trying to pick up different strategies,” he says.
Tickets for Saturday’s event are available online at 3hltour.com or at the Tribute Communities Centre ticket office.