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Three Things I Saw Watching 3-on-3 Cross-Ice Hockey

By Tom Bly, Chair, Coaches Program, 06/21/18, 2:15PM EDT


Skill development, puck control and skating on full display

Photo Credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Much like small area games, 3-on-3 cross-ice programming helps players think outside the box when it comes to creativity on the ice. This can be used across all age groups and is evident in the fact that there are many examples of teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning using cross-ice and small area games in practices to enforce concepts of passing, spacing and puck control.

The Ontario Hockey League is currently running a Performance Development League, an off-season initiative targeted at Minor Bantam and Bantam aged players incorporating Small Area 3-on-3 Games with weekly skill specific development sessions over the summer. They recently posted a short video clip of some 3-on-3 cross-ice game action and it is a great tool to learn from for those who absorb information better through visual tools.

Here are three things that I saw watching a 3-on-3 game:


Did you see how the video started? A coach tossed a puck into the middle of the cross-ice surface and both teams began playing. There was no referee or official face-off. When the puck went out of play, the coach simply put another puck back into the playing area. The goalie made a save and ‘froze’ the puck and the offending team backed off so he could put it back into play. Players were lined up outside the blue line and there was no bench for them to sit on. When the buzzer sounded after one minute of gameplay, the three players on the ice simply left the puck and skated to the ‘bench’ and the bench players traded places with them to begin their shift on the ice.

The standard structure of the game in terms of referees and rules such as offsides and icings were not needed for this 3-on-3 exercise. Instead, the focus was on skill development, engagement and having fun. This is still hockey – there are still two teams on the ice and a goalie in each net but it’s looking at the game from a different angle, one where creativity and imagination is encouraged for all involved no matter the age. The players in the above clip are 13 and 14 years old.

San Jose Sharks assistant coach Steve Spott and Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach DJ Smith explain the benefits of cross-ice and small area games. Players on both NHL teams use these in practice.

Everyone's Invovled

It took less than 15 seconds for all players on the blue team to touch the puck. With a smaller playing surface, more puck battles ensued and players had to use their teammates in order to keep possession of the puck. Players navigated the play in tight spaces against the boards and to generate scoring opportunities. All players have to be involved in the play and are constantly on the move. Every player is forced to think outside the box. With the gameplay changing from what they are used to one a full-ice surface, players must think fast and make good decisions.

Goalies must stay readily engaged throughout the game. This give them a new perspective on keeping track of the play. The action is no longer happening at the ‘other end’ of the ice. The entire cross-ice surface can be considered an offensive zone with the potential of a breakout play to happen at any moment.


Hockey Canada’s National Coach Certification Program (NCCP) is a competency-based program. The program enables coaches to build their coaching tools and knowledge of the game, so they can work effectively with their players.

Find a clinic in your area.

Board Play

In this clip, a lot of the gameplay action is close to or against the boards. By having to maneuver in such a tight space, players with the puck were forced to use their creativity, skating and puck control to win battles and maintain possession of the puck. There were a number of times where the player on offence used changes of direction to try to free themselves from the defender. Teammates had to help each other out by always being ready for the puck. Even though the puck was in tight along the boards in this clip, there is still plenty of ice for players to utilize for both spacing and speed.

What we can take away from watching this short clip of game action is that the hockey being played on the cross-ice surface is fast-paced and keeps all the players moving. Even though the play may seem less structured, it still flows with the pace of the puck and nobody can afford to simply stand around and wait for the action to come to them. Puck control and skating are highlighted as very important skills.


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Tom Bly is a Barrie, ON native and holds the position of Chair, Coaches Program in the OMHA.

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