Why the IIHF is hopeful to introduce 3-on-3 Olympic hockey

Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers skates alongside Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews. (Mark Blinch/Getty)

TORONTO – Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner and Nathan MacKinnon versus Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Patrick Kane in 3-on-3 hockey with an Olympic gold medal on the line.

Can you imagine it?

Luc Tradif can.

The newly anointed IIHF president has a vision to grow the game worldwide and attract more young eyeballs to hockey.

One way he sees doing that is by adding a fresh, fast spin on traditional hockey to future Winter Olympics.

How is it, Tardif wonders, that hockey can make such a gigantic investment in time and resources as one of the Games’ premier events and be limited to just six medals (three for the men, three for women)?

The president has looked at the Summer Games’ success of rugby sevens, beach volleyball, and 3-on-3 basketball and wondered, why not us?

Tardif's proposal has gained the interest of the International Olympic Committee, which is considering adding a 3-on-3 tournament to the world stage.

The format is still a work in progress, but Tardif envisions it being played on the narrow ice pad with shorter game lengths.

“We really believe in it,” Tardif said Tuesday at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference in downtown Toronto. “I think it’s important to bring a new format. At the moment, the kids are zapping [between channels]. They’d rather play a one-hour game twice than play two-and-a-half hours. They’re following on TV four games at a time. So, we have to try to bring a new format.”

The IIHF test-drove boys’ 3-on-3 as an exhibition at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne and will give it a formal trial at the 2024 Youth Games in Gagwon.

Installing 3-on-3 for Milano Cortina 2026 is a long shot, but Tardif says both he and the IOC are hopeful to double the hockey in 2030.

“More medals for hockey,” he smiled. “That’s not bad.”

COVID putting 2022 Games in jeopardy for NHL?

Tardif assumed the IIHF reins from long-serving president René Fasel in late September and had his first face-to-face meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman Monday in Toronto.

“It was a warm welcome,” Tardif said. “One of my priorities is to grow hockey all over the world, like football is doing, like rugby is doing. They open their championships to wider markets.”

Tardif submitted to Bettman a first draft of the safety protocols for Beijing, using Tokyo as a blueprint. The NHL will submit revisions, and the sides will lock regulations down for February before opening discussions on a four-year plan to grow the game through international best-on-best competition.

Tardif says he and Bettman hold the shared goal of sustainably growing hockey in the untapped Asian market through rinks and coaching.

The Ottawa Senators’ outbreak and the threat of COVID was not discussed in their initial meeting.

“I hope – cross the fingers – that we are not going to be bothered by a fifth wave or something like that, because that’s the only thing that can stop [NHL participation],” Tardif said. “I believe we’re going to have the best players in the next Olympic Games. I’m a little bit worried because there are some [positive] cases. But the protocol is there, we’ve got the experience of Tokyo over the summer, and I’m confident.”

Pittsburgh Penguins president Brian Burke says he’s “amazed” the NHL has not lost more games due to positive tests and has faith that, if need be, taxi squads should keep the schedule rolling through situations like the one in Ottawa.

“I don’t think it puts the season in jeopardy at all. It’s still one team with that many cases,” Burke said. “There’s a lot of things that would have to happen before we look at postponing the Olympics or postponing the season.”

China’s spot is not guaranteed

Tardif has Norway on standby if the host Chinese are unable to properly dress a legitimate men’s ice hockey team in the Beijing tournament.

Despite drawing a Group A seat with Canada, U.S. and Germnay, Tardif maintains China’s participation is not a done deal.

The IIHF has five experts from various nations watching China’s two test games: a 5-4 overtime loss Monday to the KHL’s Amur Khabarovsk, and a second game on Wednesday.

Those scouts will report back to Tardif, who will make a ruling on Team China’s eligibility in conjunction with the IOC on Nov. 25, giving Norway a couple months to prepare if necessary.

“It will be our decision. We are on board with IOC. I didn’t want to do a diplomatic earthquake alone, just coming as a new president,” said Tardif, asserting that China itself has no say in the matter.

“It will be our rules. When I say ‘our,’ that’s IOC and IIHF.”

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