Return of 3ICE gives the NHL another chance to see how a potential 3-on-3 OT rule change works

FILE - Hockey Hall of Fame and a four-time Stanley Cup winner Larry Murphy is honored before the start of an NHL hockey game between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Islanders, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Los Angeles. When the NHL implemented 3-on-3 play in overtime nearly a decade ago, the idea was to see the most speed and skill hockey had to offer. In recent years, 3 on 3 has slowed down. Larry Murphy coaches a 3ICE team and believes the NHL should adopt the over-and-back rule.(AP Photo/Gus Ruelas, File)
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By STEPHEN WHYNO

AP Hockey Writer

When the NHL implemented 3-on-3 play in overtime nearly a decade ago, the idea was to see the most speed and skill hockey had to offer.

In recent years, 3 on 3 has slowed down, leading league officials to debate rule changes, such as not allowing the puck to go back past the center red line like over and back in basketball. The 3ICE league has had that rule from the beginning, and its return for a third season this spring and summer is another chance for the NHL to see how the experiment works for potential future use.

“That’s one of my favorite rules,” Hall of Famer, four-time Stanley Cup champion and 3ICE coach Larry Murphy said, adding he’d support the NHL making that change. “What’s great about the red line over-and-back rule is it puts a little more pressure on the puck — the team with the puck, the possession team. They’ve got a smaller area to work with.”

Murphy’s team won the Patrick Cup as 3ICE champions last year, and he’s back to defend that title for the league’s third season that runs from June 12-Aug. 14. He’s one of six Hall of Fame players serving as coaches for the eight teams, joined by Ray Bourque, Joe Mullen, Grant Fuhr, Guy Carbonneau and 2023 inductee Pierre Turgeon.

Adding to the group this season is retired New Jersey Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko, who despite being a rough and tumble player, likes what the NHL has done with 3 on 3 and wants to get through some coaching before recommending rule changes to the top league in the world.

“I don’t think it’s taken away from the excitement,” Daneyko said. “The rules of 3ICE, I think it’s the right thing for the league, and if the NHL likes it as well and adopts it, OK, I’d be all for it.”

Colorado’s Cale Makar, the 2022 playoff MVP and Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, plays plenty of 3-on-3 OT and is content with how it’s currently constructed.

“I am indifferent on that,” Makar said. “You utilize (speed) coming out of the zone, but if it’s the red line, it’s fine. I still think there’s a lot of action.”

EJ Johnston, the founder and CEO of 3ICE, said there’s regular conversations between his folks and NHL officials, who have shared that they like the over-and-back rule, in particular.

“You cannot go into the offensive zone, skate the puck out and cross the center-ice line without being a turnover,” Johnston said. “It’s not a penalty, but it’s a turnover. The whistle blows, the other team gets the puck. And in 3 on 3, possession is very, very precious.”

Some questions remain about how the NHL would implement such a rule, and if it would create extra, unnecessary stoppages in overtime. General managers are expected to discuss several possibilities at their annual March meeting, which the American Hockey League will be watching closely given the connection between it and the NHL.q