A fast and furious Olympic debut for 3-on-3 ice hockey

14 Jan 2020

By Justin Kor in Lausanne

Matthew is one of the 13 athletes in Orange Infernos. There were eight teams competing in the men’s mixed-noc 3-on-3 event. Photo: Getty Images

They were gone in 60 seconds. As bodies clattered and sticks clashed, each player knew they only had a minute to make a difference on the ice, before a buzzer sounded that signalled the end of a brief but intense shift.

This is 3-on-3 ice hockey, which is making its Olympic debut at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games. Here, the game is rapid and the action non-stop. Quick-fire rolling substitutions are made every minute for all three outfield players, with goalkeepers getting eight minutes of playing time for each period. A game has three periods lasting 16 minutes each.

The playing field is also smaller – just half the size of a regular ice hockey arena. This makes the game less forgiving. Any mistake can easily lead to a quick break, and a possible goal at the other side of the rink.

“It’s more fast-paced,” remarked ice hockey player Matthew Hamnett, who is one of three Singaporeans at the Games. “If you stop anywhere in the playing area, there are almost always two players on you.” As such, players are forced to think harder and faster, which contributes massively to their development.

As 3-on-3 ice hockey makes its first appearance at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG), downsized formats for team sports have been catching on at the Olympics. The likes of Hockey 5s, futsal and 3×3 basketball have appeared at the Summer YOG. Tokyo 2020 will also feature the same basketball format, while Baseball 5s will be making its YOG debut at Dakar 2022.

 

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At the Vaudoise Aréna, Hamnett’s team, the Orange Infernos, finished sixth out of eight teams as they narrowly missed out on a semi-final spot.

But it has been a valuable experience for the athlete who has had only five years of experience, as he competes against opponents and trains with teammates who have been playing the sport for more than a decade. The relative novice has been unfazed on the ice and “battling hard” too, according to team coach Anders Lundberg.

“He (Matthew) learns really quickly,” he said. “When I talk to him, he’s really getting the message and I see him trying to do it on the ice. He looks at other players and tries to do the same things as them. That’s how we evolve as players, so he’s doing a really good job.”

Matthew controlling the puck in the preliminary round of the mixed-noc 3-on-3 ice hockey men’s tournament. Photo: Getty Images

Lundberg has also lauded the initiative of the mixed-NOC format, where players of different nationalities mix it in as a team in the spirit of Olympism. “They learn from each other, they get friends for the future and it’s also good for a 15 year-old to meet different cultures,” he said.

“It’s not just about about the hockey games – it’s about growing as a person as well, and that’s what they do with this format.”