Would a Big 3 Style Women’s Hockey League Work?

Legendary rapper and entertainer Ice Cube started the Big3 basketball league in 2017. Since then, the league has traveled around the country and played at 18 different venues throughout their regular season. It’s a different arena every weekend, with the same teams competing until a champion is crowned.

Essentially the league combines the sustainability the PWHPA is looking for with elements of the ‘Dream Gap Tour’. It allows fans all over the country to see every team and every player they want to see once a season.

Could this work for women’s hockey? Instead of a league with, say, six teams playing a 25-30 game schedule, could a Big3 type league actually work? Stick taps to Jim Biringer on Twitter for presenting this idea when we asked what fans wanted to see from a perspective women’s league.

The Reasoning

The ‘Dream Gap Tour’ has been a huge success in large part because it brings some of the best women’s hockey players in the world to different parts of both the United States and Canada. These are the best of the best, and they are all in the same building for one weekend in your town. There’s no long-term commitment when it comes to buying tickets. You pack the house for that weekend and show you support on the one stop they make in your town.

It sounds like a travelling act might be difficult to make sustainable, right? That is until you factor in the appetite for women’s hockey. I was at the PWHPA event in New Hampshire, and people were willing to make the trek for the weekend because they knew it was their only chance to see their idols in action. There’s no “well, we can catch them next weekend,” mentality. That should help attendance at each stop.

When you have marquee names, especially in women’s sports, it can be tough to get them in the same building at once. When there were two women’s leagues, it was nearly impossible to see all the players you wanted to because some might be in the CWHL when you live in a NWHL city. That problem is no longer a factor with a Big3 style league.

The Set Up

In the three-on-three style, speed and skill would be the dominant traits. I’d argue each team would need to carry two goaltenders, eight forwards, and four defenders. That allows four different forward pairs and four different defenders. You could also simply dress 12 skaters, as an alternative if teams only wanted to deploy one forward at a time. Roster size should be 14, allowing teams to have extra players in the event of injury or slump.

Play two 15 minute periods. This allows multiple games in a day and keeps the pace going. It would be high-octane action and the score shouldn’t get too out of hand with a 30 minute game. You would resurface the ice at ‘halftime’ and allow the teams to switch sides. You could even do three ten minute periods if the 15 is too much at three-on-three. After all, three-on-three is much more taxing.

Team wise, the league should likely be composed of ten teams. Instead of ‘The Boston Lady Bruins’ allow the teams to come up with their own names. It would add an element of fun to it. They could even design their own jerseys, which I think would be a huge hit with the players and the fans.

If you did a ten team league, you could play two games on Friday night and three on Saturday, or three Saturday and two Sunday at your weekend stop. Play 15 weeks of the of the season and then, in a ten team league, the top eight advance to the postseason. It would be single elimination until the Finals, which you could do a best-of-three on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In terms of play, if the game was tied after regulation you would go straight to a shootout. Make regulation wins more valuable too. Try a three point system for a regulation win, two for a shootout win and one for a shootout loss.

Making The Teams

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, this was a ten team league. You’d assign ten captain and coach combinations and then let them draft the players in a fantasy draft. That would be a ton of fun. It would also be something else for the perspective league to market. In the end, that’s the most important thing, right? Getting that visibility that allows the league and players to make more money.

Once the teams are drafted, that’s when you let them figure out their names, logo and uniform.

Location, Location, Location

If you played a 15 game season, you’d need 15 cities for the regular season and then three for the playoffs. It might seem like a lot, but there are plenty of options for spots to play. It shouldn’t be an issue.

The league should open up, and play Championship weekend, in Toronto. It’s the biggest hockey market in Canada and arguably the most hockey mad city in the world. You know you’ll sell the building out on your biggest nights of the year.

What if the season schedule went like this?

Week 1: Toronto (Coca-Cola Coliseum)
Week 2: Montreal (Bell Centre)
Week 3: Buffalo (Harborcenter)
Week 4: Boston (Warrior Ice Arena)
Week 5: Newark (Prudential Center)
Week 6: St. Paul (Xcel Energy Center)
Week 7: Ottawa (Canadian Tire Center)
Week 8: Edmonton (Rogers Place)
Week 9: Calgary (Saddledome)
Week 10: Vancouver (Langley Events Centre)
Week 11: San Jose (SAP Arena)
Week 12: Madison, Wisconsin (Kohl Center)
Week 13: Hartford (XL Center)
Week 14: Philadelphia (Wells Fargo Center)
Week 15: Raleigh (PNC Arena)
Quarterfinal Weekend: Pittsburgh (UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex)
Semifinal Weekend: Chicago (United Center)
Championship Weekend: Toronto (best-of-three, Scotiabank Arena)

Why It Wouldn’t Work

The idea isn’t perfect, and questions would certainly arise regarding the viability of the league long-term. After all, there isn’t a ton of room for growth in terms of a player pool unless you expand the league. It would be extremely tough for women to break into the league from the college level. A three-on-three league also is far from traditional. Would a league like that even survive? It’s a very different game than the five-on-five game we are accustomed too. Sure, it might be a hit in years one and two, but would people sour on it? It’s a fair question.

Would networks have the appetite to air that kind of game? The league wouldn’t even get off the ground without the support of both Canadian and American TV. Airing games on NHL Network can only get you so far. Sportsnet or TSN would have to step up in Canada, while one of the many networks in the States would need to step up. Perhaps ESPN can dip their toes back into hockey by supporting this league?

This is not a perfect idea. It’s a creative one, however, and one that could be successful if done correctly. I’m not sure there is an appetite from the players to go this route, however. Regardless, it is something to ponder.

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