When the Buffalo Sabres wanted to measure incoming prospects’ compete level, they devoted an entire day of their July development camp to playing small-ice hockey.
Buffalo’s format of choice was an intense 3-on-3 tournament played within 75 feet of ice, from the attacking blue line to the end boards (one end zone). Time and space was in short supply by design, demanding maximum skill and grit from the Sabres’ 40 invitees.
“To me, the 3-on-3 is more important than the full-ice scrimmage,” said Tim Murray, overseeing his first development camp as Buffalo’s newly appointed general manager. “It’s a lot harder type of game than it is playing end-to-end. It’s a battle. Everything’s a battle. The guys that don’t battle are on the periphery and they don’t have a big impact.”
Minnesota native Hudson Fasching, acquired by Buffalo in a trade-deadline swap with Los Angeles, was among the battlers. He played two seasons with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, gaining an appreciation for the crucible of cross-ice and half-ice hockey.
“I think it gives you a better idea of how bad everyone wants it,” Fasching told the New York Hockey Journal. “There’s a lot of battles, there’s no open ice. Everyone is right on top of you.”
Those characteristics are intrinsic with cross- and half-ice hockey, making it more like the pulsing pace of an NHL game. As a result, it’s a development tool used by every NHL team. And while it’s important for aspiring professionals, it’s even more valuable for mites, emphasizing fast-twitch bursts of skating speed and agility that define success at advancing levels. It also creates more puck touches and confidence for every player, making it both functional and fun.
The proof can be seen in every NHL rink. From the pros to the ponds, hockey in small spaces takes players places.