Breaking down 3-on-3
by Adam Steiss|11 JAN 2020
photo: Vedran Galijas

Why a 3-on-3 ice hockey event?

The 3-on-3 tournament is the IIHF’s answer to a request from the International Olympic Committee to have a more diversified and inclusive Youth Olympic Games (YOG). The idea was then proposed by the IIHF for a new competition: a 3-on-3 mixed-nation format designed to have as many countries represented in an ice hockey event as possible, while giving players from developing ice hockey nations a chance to compete for a medal and take part in the Olympic Movement. 

What is the 3-on-3 format?

The Youth Olympic Games 3-on-3 format features a men’s and a women’s tournament, played cross-ice with no more than 3 players per team on the ice at once, plus a goalie.

The preliminary round consists of eight teams playing a single round robin. The four best-ranked teams proceed to the semi-finals. The first-place team plays the fourth and the second-placed team against the third. The winners advance to the Gold Medal game and losers play for the Bronze.

The ranking in the preliminary round is determined by game points on the following basis (three-point system):

3 points for the winning team at the conclusion of regulation time.

1 point for both teams at the conclusion of regulation time if the game is tied.

1 additional point for the team winning the game in a penalty-shot shootout, if the teams are tied following conclusion of the regulation time.
0 points for the team losing the game in regulation time.

The top four teams qualify to the semi-finals and the remaining teams are ranked based on the standings after the preliminary round.

How long is each game?

A game consists of three 16-minute periods. As such, one game lasts 48 minutes and thus, 48 one-minute shifts are played in each game.

The intermissions between the periods is two minutes. Teams do not change sides for the second and third period.

The 3-on-3 tournaments take place over 6 days with each team playing seven games in the preliminary round.
photo: Vedran Galijas
How are the team rosters composed?

The team rosters are made up of players from mixed National Olympic Committees. In total, 104 male and 104 female players representing 43 countries were split up to form the teams.

The 3-on-3 Tournament consists of eight (8) teams with 13 athletes (11 skaters and 2 goaltenders). These teams are composed of athletes from different National Olympic Committees (NOC). If possible, none of the teams has more than one (1) player from the same NOC. The eight (8) teams consist of eleven (11) skaters and two (2) goaltenders. Each team plays with three lines, with lines changes at set intervals.

How were the players selected?

In order to choose the best player from each nation to participate in the tournament, a series of National Skills Challenges were operated by the National Olympic Committees and the National Ice Hockey Associations and verified by the IIHF Sport Department. The best player from each country automatically qualified to the 3-on-3 tournament, while the remaining quota were filled based on a global ranking.

How does the IIHF ensure the teams are competitively balanced?

The teams were built based on the results of the National Skills Challenges, with the highest-ranked players spread out over the teams. Prior to the start of the competition, all players were evaluated during two practice sessions and scouting days in order to determine the line composition, with an effort to balance out skilled players with less-skilled players. The goaltenders from each team were selected from the top-16 ice hockey nations according to an IIHF Youth Ranking specifically designed for this competition.

Who is coaching these kids?

Each team has a coach assigned by the IIHF to ensure that the games are operated in an orderly and fair fashion.
The teams are typically composed of 13 different nationalities. 
How are lines rotated?

The objective is to have players with the same skill level on the ice. Therefore, the 1st line always plays against the 1st line of the opposing team. Coaches can only change players between the lines if a player gets injured during a game. After every game, coaches can make changes to the lineup. 

Every eight (8) minutes, goaltenders change on the fly. It is not allowed to pull a goaltender and send an extra skater on the ice.

What about penalties?

The rules follow the IIHF Rule Book, with body-checking not permitted in either the men’s or women’s events.

A penalty is not assessed to a player but to the player’s team. Minor penalties are not served directly after the rule violations occur. The penalized player stays on the ice and the play continues until the next shift, when the offending team must play 2-on-3 for the entire one-minute shift. If a goal is scored by the team playing power-play, the penalty does not end until the shift is over.

If a team commits two penalties in one shift, they must play 2-on-3 for the next two shifts.

If two penalties are called on each team during the same shift, the penalties cancel each other out and the teams continue 3-on-3.

When a major penalty is called, the game flow stops immediately. The penalized player must leave the ice and go to the dressing room. The play continues with a face-off.

A major penalty results in the immediate expulsion of the player from the game. The duration of a major penalty is the remainder of the shift plus the three following shifts.

What if a penalty is called on the last shift?

For every remaining penalty that cannot be served in the last shift, the opposing team receives a penalty shot. The penalty shots are taken at the end of the game. Penalty shots can be washed out in case both teams have penalties left to serve. 

All minor penalties called in the last shift automatically result in one (1) penalty shot each for the opposing team. All major penalties in the last shift automatically result in three (3) penalty shots each for the opposing team.

What happens is a game is tied? Is there overtime or a shootout?

No overtime. If the game is tied at the conclusion of the regular time or after the end of game penalty scenario, there will be a penalty-shot shootout. The shootout follows sudden-death format from the beginning and thus, allows one skater from each team to take a shot until a winner is determined. The home team shoots first.

The penalty shots cannot be taken by the same player until all other skaters have taken one. If all skaters have taken a penalty shot, the procedure starts from the beginning. Goaltenders change after every penalty shot (unless one goaltender is injured or was expelled from the game). 

Anything else?

In line with the YOG’s youth-centered approach, 3-on-3 games will take place with a live DJ playing music. An MC will also provide some entertainment and commentary during the game insttead of the usual game announcements.