‘There’s no hiding’: Former Red Wing Larry Murphy enjoying upstart, uptempo 3-on-3 league

Detroit News

Don’t blink.

That’s probably the best piece of advice we can offer if you’re checking out the upstart 3ICE hockey league, which takes arguably the most exciting aspect of NHL games — overtime’s 3-on-3 — and plays full games with that format. The league is in its third week, and on Saturday, arrives at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena.

The league plays a weekly tournament and features six teams, one of which is coached by Larry Murphy, a former star defenseman who won four Stanley Cups as a player in the 1990s, including two with the Red Wings.

“I’ve never coached before, but I thought, boy, this is gonna be a good opportunity and something I think I could get excited about,” Murphy said over the phone this week. “It’s turned out to be everything I hoped it could be. It’s high-pace, high-tempo. When there’s overtime (in the NHL), you could feel the excitement in the building. It’s a fast-paced game, highly skilled. It’s all about puck possession; it’s all about playing with lots of speed. Just the way the league is set up, it’s just pure speed, relentless.”

3ICE, whose commissioner is Hockey Hall of Famer Craig Patrick, has games that are 16 minutes, with two eight-minute halves. There’s a running clock, except for penalties.

Each roster has just six skaters and one goalie, and each weekend tournament features three opening-round games, two semifinal games and a championship game. The whole tournament is done in about three hours.

There are some players with an NHL background, though most come from the American League or ECHL, as well as leagues in Europe. And they’re in tremendous shape. They’d better be.

“For the guys playing, I think it was eye-opening for everybody just how difficult it was going to be,” said Murphy, 61, who, following his playing days, did some TV broadcasting for the Red Wings.

“There’s no hiding in 3-on-3. You’d better be in shape, or you’ll stand out like a sore thumb. You’ve gotta be careful you don’t extend the shifts too long. There’s really no time to recover.

“The shifts are short and the pace is up.”

The league held a camp seven weeks ago, and about 90 players were invited and participated; then there was a draft, with 42 players selected and the rest released.

Grant Fuhr, Bryan Trottier, Guy Carbonneau, Joe Mullen and John LeClair are the other coaches.

Week 1 was in Las Vegas; Week 2 was in Denver. After Grand Rapids, the league travels to Hershey, Pennsylvania; London, Ontario; Pittsburgh, Quebec City, Nashville, and then back to Vegas for the championship weekend.

About 4,000 fans took in the action in Las Vegas, though the league isn’t overly concerned with ticket sales at this point. It prefers a slow build to sustainability, Murphy said, working out the kinks along the way. It’s the opposite approach of an upstart like the USFL.

Tickets for the Grand Rapids tournament, which begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, start at $29.

“The approach is to build the product and make it stronger in the future, so more people are aware of the league and more players are going to want to be signed,” said Murphy, adding that fans should be intrigued by all the action — for instance, in Week 1, his team was down four goals, he pulled the goalie, and they ended up winning in a shootout.

Last week’s games averaged eight goals each. The games are broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

3ICE, which was supposed to debut a year ago but was pushed back because of the pandemic, launches just as the Olympics are considering adding a 3-on-3 hockey discipline.

3ICE

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids

Tickets: Starting at $29; details at 3ice.com

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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