For the first time in history, 3-on-3 basketball was played at the Summer Olympics. That got us thinking, what if there was a 3-on-3 hockey tournament or games at the All-Star Weekend. So we ran with it, making small squads for each NWHL team, based on the 2020 rosters.
Pond hockey, anyone?
I have always loved the idea of 3-on-3 in hockey. The pure unbridled chaos it creates, as well as the potential for some truly amazing athletic achievements, make for some riveting action on a sheet of ice. It takes the abilities of a select few and magnifies them to a point never before seen, where one step, one shot, or one save can make a game or lose it.
When it comes to a situation like a 3-on-3 in ice hockey, you look for not the best players, as Herb Brooks put it, but the right ones. Sometimes, that means leaving off a big name or putting someone in whom you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as being one to excel in such a moment; however, there’s a reason for all of the choices here. It’s not always about the All-Stars, after all — sometimes, it’s about who does the best with what they’ve got, and in 3v3 hockey, what you need is speed, a strong transition, and a quick recovery time in the case of (inevitable) mistakes.
With that said, here’s whom I went with for the final three teams in the NWHL, should there ever be a 3-on-3 tournament.
Skaters: Marie-Jo Pelletier, Lisa Chesson, Autumn MacDougall
Goalie: Carly Jackson
This line is a bit on the smaller side, but what they lack in size, they make up for in skill and transitional awareness. Chesson has long proven that she excels in pushing the play forward, especially on the skater-advantage — and with plenty of ice in a 3v3 situation, expect her to make the most of it. The same can be said for MJP, who has some of the best defensive positioning in the game and can easily turn the play around in the neutral zone especially. Her puck possession and awareness on the ice will ensure the Beauts make the most of a 3-on-3 situation. Moreover, her willingness to block shots ensures her netminder will be well-protected on the back end.
As for MacDougall, 3v3 is about speed and timing, and her two goals in Lake Placid proved she has the capacity to execute both. If she can harness that transition game and crash the net hard again, she’ll help provide the finish her defensive duo sets her up for, especially on the odd-man rush. While Taylor Accursi would be the obvious pick here for many, I like the idea of giving a young player the reins here to make something happen. It makes for a more confident and reliable player down the line when you give a youngster the chance to show what she can do, especially when she has the wheels AuttieMac has.
You’ll also notice that I included two defenders here instead of the usual two forwards; that’s purely because I couldn’t choose between the two. Each has such a great skillset and can help out on both sides of the puck. Also, it’s no secret that much of the Beauts’ offense comes from their defense. Honorable mention here should go, however, to Cassidy MacPherson. While MacPherson isn’t a flashy player, she’s a steady presence in the faceoff circle where the Beauts have struggled overall, averaging nearly 50 percent per season. In a case where they need as much puck possession as possible, winning faceoffs becomes ever more important the fewer the players are on the ice.
Jackson, meanwhile, has more than proved her mettle in intense situations, which is why she’s been brought back for a full season in Buffalo and nearly won Newcomer of the Year in 2021. Expect her to come up big with the glove and pads when needed, especially on point-blank chances. Her confident playing style, with a high arc and decisive foot- and pad work, won’t leave a whole lot of openings for the opposition.
Skaters: Allie Thunstrom, Audra Richards, Amanda Boulier
Goalie: Amanda Leveille
Thunstrom is a no-brainer for this type of situation; after all, she’s not the fastest skater in the NWHL for nothing. The veteran forward can still bring the heat and the finish to this trio, and although she was more quiet in Lake Placid than usual, it doesn’t mean she didn’t produce especially where it counted — in the post-season (four goals).
Richards is a valued penalty killer who plays both sides of the puck well, and can even score a shorthanded goal when needed to boost her team. That is certainly important in a high-stakes situation where there’s more ice and less room for error. In a situation where an errant pass could mean everything, you want to have someone on the back end who can keep things on track.
Boulier, meanwhile, is responsible in her own end with the puck while also being one hell of a producer in the O-zone. Although she only played two playoff games in 2020-21, her last full season saw her produce over a point per game, with 27 in 22 games played. The great thing about the Whitecaps is that they are full to the brim with speedy players who can easily overwhelm a less experienced team in transition, so no matter who they place in a 3v3, they can make some beautiful chaos happen.
Finally, it’s obvious that the Minnesota net belongs squarely to Leveille, and for good reason: she’s an incredible netminder with poise under duress and incredible recoverability. If she can stay healthy and keep her rebounds to a minimum, she’s the goalie to beat in nine situations out of 10.
Skaters: Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Lindsay Eastwood, Brooke Boquist
Goalie: Elaine Chuli
Come on, now. You didn’t think I was going to leave one of the most dynamic pure offensive players the league has seen off of this list, did you? Grant-Mentis completely dominated in her first full season in LP, and that was 5-on-5. Imagine the creativity and highlight-reel quality work she can produce with almost twice as much ice. You’re picturing it now. I know you are. And if you’re not, you should be. She’s one of the most exciting players in the league for a very good reason.
Meanwhile, Eastwood’s size, reach, and offensive ability (aka THAT SHOT) make her a no-brainer as well. It’s not that the other two skaters are necessarily small, but it just helps to have someone behind you able to keep the puck in the zone and drive the play forward. Eastwood isn’t just big, though — she’s well-rounded, and proved that in her rookie season.
As for the third skater… I puzzled on this one for a bit, because there are a few skaters for Toronto who can fit into this slot. Eventually I settled for Boquist, though, because of her amazing hands and ability to create a lot out of just a little. She’s a smooth skater who can make some of the strongest blueliners in the league stumble a bit — and then capitalize on the opportunity that comes from it. Alongside MGM with that much space, she could be dangerous.
Chuli has owned Toronto’s net basically from the word “go,” making a strong case for Goaltender of the Year honors in 2020-21. With a 4-1 record and a .936 save percentage over six games played in the regular single-site season, she helped the Six really hit their stride as the new kids on the block in LP. A former stalwart in net for the Toronto Furies (RIP, CWHL), she’s still got some amazing pads and can come up big in high-pressure situations.