By Mike Longo Jr.
One of former Penguins Broadcaster Mike Lange's more iconic catchphrases was, "It's a hockey night in Pittsburgh."
It wasn't actually PPG Paints Arena in the city's Uptown section. There was no Crosby, Malkin, Letang and the usual cast of characters gliding on a two-inch piece of ice.
However, it was certainly a hockey night, with a bit of a twist in a little different environment, namely the locale, Neville Island.
In a precursor to welcoming back hockey to the university after (men and women) hiatus, RMU's Island Sports Complex, Clearview Arena was the setting for opening night of 3ICE.
3ICE is the brainchild of Eddie Johnston Jr., son of Pittsburgh Penguins legend Eddie Johnston Sr. In 2015 the NHL, to every fan's delight, adopted the concept of three-on-three overtime hockey. Johnston Jr. took heed of that exciting well-received format, and 3ICE was born.
North America’s 3ICE is a totally independent three-on-three professional ice hockey league designed to give fans of all ages the speed, skill and excitement they love all of the time. The on-ice action and skill, move at an unprecedented pace, providing the ultimate hockey experience.
The chief officers have a Penguins connection as Craig Patrick is the league's commissioner along with Deputy Commissioner, Eddie Johnston Sr., more commonly known as EJ, in his playing days.
The best part of hockey is overtime. 3ICE features that all the time, with its bracketed style of play. A single elimination series of games featuring two, eight-minute periods with a running clock aids in a fan's delight.
The league is comprised of eight teams whose roster consists of eight players; two goalies and six forwards. Each scheduled venue hosts four teams and four games. The winners of the first two rounds will compete in the finals that night, while the other two face off in a consolation game.
"With our roots in Pittsburgh, it's important for us to find a way to help our friends at RMU men's and women's ice hockey teams by bringing 3ICE to campus and supporting the program," said Johnston.
"We're grateful to our friends at the Penguins as well, for their support even though PPG Paints Arena is unavailable this summer due to renovations."
One hundred percent of the profits of 3ICE's stop at Clearview Arena, RMU's Island Sports Complex will help fund the return of the university's men's and women's D1 ice hockey programs.
"We offer affordable, entertaining hockey featuring professional hockey players from literally every top league in the world competing in a format featuring the most exciting part of the sport - three-on-three," said EJ Johnston.
"In addition to the high-paced, non-stop, end-to-end action, we have some new and exciting fan-engaging experiences planned in each city as we look forward to bringing 3ICE to Hershey, Clarksville, Philadelphia, Newark, Boston and Grand Rapids this summer," EJ Johnston went on to say.
Wells Fargo Center, home of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers will play host as the season culminates with the Patrick Cup Championship on Saturday, Aug. 12 at 1 p.m.
All 3ICE Wednesday night events will be aired on CBS Sports Network along with Championship Saturday in August.
Each 3ICE team is coached by a Former NHL All-Star, Stanley Cup Champion or Hockey Hall of Fame member. It is composed of an elite group of former stars who have impacted the game of hockey and were rewarded as such.
This notable group of eight coaches, four with a Pittsburgh connection have been duly rewarded for their efforts on and off the ice. Each one is a Stanley Cup Champion and several are also enshrined in the Hockey Hall Of Fame.
Impressive as the list of coaches is an equally impressive feat that is being achieved by one coach in particular, former Penguin EJ Johnston at age 87 became the second oldest living coach in professional sports. He is second behind legendary baseball coach, Connie Mack who last coached at 88 years of age.
In Pittsburgh where the league offices are located, Penguins representation includes Patrick and Johnston being joined by Joey Mullen and Larry Murphy. The rest of the coaches are Grant Fuhr goalie from the Edmonton Oilers, John LeClair from the Philadelphia Flyers then Pittsburgh via a trade, Guy Carbonneau of the Montreal Canadians and lastly Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche.
Johnston owns the devious distinction of being the last goalie (1963-64) to play every minute of every game that season. Simply put, an unbelievable achievement.
As with any league, there are rules and 3ICE is no different than any other, well sort of. Remember, this is not your conventional style of hockey. It's 3-on-3 hockey all the time. The two eight-minute halves constitute a full game with a running clock. No power plays, if a penalty is called it's a penalty shot with the coach picking the shooter. No overtime, shootouts take place and go until someone scores to determine a winner. A goalie can play the puck anytime as it is in play all the time. There is no intentional icing as it results in a penalty shot.
True there is no Stanley Cup awarded to the winner of the Championship game, however, the reward is the Patrick or "Patty" Cup. Affectionately named after League Commissioner, Craig Patrick. Get it?
Opening night of play at RMU gave the fans enough action to satisfy every penny of their ticket cost. They witnessed four, fast-paced, exhilarating games.
In the opener, Team Fuhr bested Team Carbonneau by a final score of 7-3 advancing to the finals. The Pittsburgh connection took center stage next as Team Patrick was able to stave off Team Johnston, winning 4-2. With their victory, Team Patrick punched their ticket to a match-up against Team Fuhr in the evening's championship game.
On the flip side, Team Johnston would remain on the ice awaiting Team Carbonneau's return to determine third place for the evening. Undoubtedly the best contest of the night saw a back-and-forth game in which 11 goals twinkled the twine. In the end, Team Carbonneau outlasted Team Johnston by a final of 6-5.
In the championship contest the scoreboard read 7-0 before the end of the first stanza in favor of Team Patrick over Coach Grant Fuhr's team. Patrick's crew would notch one more goal while allowing only one as they became the champions for opening night. Final score 8-1.
How appropriate that on this night, a team with a connection to the City of Pittsburgh in a game that was played just on its outskirts would steal the show.
Witnessing this league's play firsthand, I can attest to the fact that it lived up to its pregame hype and league promotion.
The action was exactly as promised, exhilarating, fast-paced, and constantly moving end to end. One of the most enjoyable assets to this style of competitive brand of hockey is the laid-back atmosphere.
Yes, there are on-ice referees controlling the action just like in the NHL. However, one of the two linesmen donned a harness complete with an Ipad attached. CBS's game production crew would take live feeds from that Ipad as part of the broadcast for the home audience.
RMU Hockey returns to the Island this October, but for the present, tune in for the action next time 3ICE hits the ice nearby. You won't be disappointed.