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Q&A with Youth Olympic Games 3-on-3 Coach Kristen Wright

By Tom Robinson, 01/10/20, 2:15PM MST


Wright, USA Hockey’s ADM manager for female hockey, set to coach in inaugural 3-on-3 Youth Olympic tournament

The 2020 Youth Olympic Winter Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, includes a ground-breaking way to showcase ice hockey on a world stage.     

The International Ice Hockey Federation has organized 3-on-3, cross-ice tournaments that incorporate many fundamentals of USA Hockey’s American Development Model for growing the game at younger age groups.

Kristen Wright, USA Hockey’s ADM manager for female hockey, is coaching in the tournament for 2004 and 2005 birthyear girls, where players from multiple countries are combined on each team. She appreciates being able to explore the 3-on-3 game on such a large platform.

“Sports don’t get added to the Olympic Games that often, so the opportunity to come and be a part of a new form of ice hockey that is being introduced is very exciting for everyone that is here,” Wright said. “They’ve put in a lot of time over the last five years to create the best platform for the athletes to perform.”

Wright said that the IIHF and International Olympic Committee’s support gives USA Hockey an additional platform to showcase the ADM.

There are eight teams in each gender, playing a round-robin format to determine semifinal round matchups. Players were selected through national skills challenge competitions leading up to the event.  

Between Thursday’s practice and the start of competition Friday, Wright took time to speak to USA Hockey about the event and its significance.

USA Hockey: As a coach what will your focus be throughout this tournament?

Kristen Wright: One of the biggest focuses as a coach in this tournament is instilling the spirit of the 3-on-3 tournament in our team. Part of that spirit is the competitive nature of hockey, making sure our kids are having fun and competing, but also making sure that we are running the tournament according to the format, balancing our lines so that the tournament is fair for all of the teams.

USAH: What is the reasoning behind the IIHF hosting a 3-on-3 tournament in addition to the standard tournament that’s typically held?

KW: One of the things is they wanted more athletes to be engaged in the hockey portion of the Youth Olympic Games. They had a skills competition for additional countries outside of those here for the 5-on-5 tournament. It had been a very small touchpoint for those countries and they felt that a more-engaging, 3-on-3 tournament for those players would be a better format, not only to showcase an age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate competition, but to present them with additional competitive, team-oriented opportunities to play.

The other thing that is really cool about this 3-on-3 format is mixed rosters. You don’t have a team, say, from Slovakia. Instead, you’ll see rosters like mine with all 13 girls from different countries.

USAH: How does this type of tournament parallel with the development happening in the United States these days?

KW: A huge piece of it is the age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate approach to ice hockey. Smaller space and playing 3-on-3 cross-ice provides all of the athletes more puck touches and a lot more engaging environment to compete in. That smaller format gives them a ton of opportunities to play in a small space. You have more puck battles, you have more body contact, you have more goals. Our practice game [Thursday] was 14-10.

USAH: You have mentioned that this format keeps the players more engaged throughout the game. Is that something you have seen in some similar events? Have you had any events that seem similar to what you have right now?

KW: The engagement is absolutely higher for the athletes throughout these games with the smaller rosters and the format of the 3-on-3 tournament. It creates a fun and competitive environment for athletes at this age. We really appreciate that because we wanted to make the 3-on-3 tournament the epicenter of these Youth Olympic Games. It’s being held at the same arena that they’re holding the Opening Ceremonies. We’re going to have music on during the games, not just during stoppages, but the whole time. And, because we have mixed rosters, we’ve already seen other countries more engaged in watching our practices because I can have 13 groups of kids from other countries watching our kids play because I have kids from 13 different countries on my roster. We want that engagement factor to transcend our athletes playing in the games, but also throughout the Youth Olympic Games as a whole. I think it’s going to be really exciting to see how that plays out.

USAH: Would it be good for youth and/or girls associations to do similar things at the local level in the United States and how would that benefit the players?

KW: We think it would be a really good format for associations to take and adopt throughout the United States. We’re happy that the IIHF has put a lot of time and effort into adopting and coming up with rules and covering all those logistical concerns that people might have about running a 3-on-3 tournament. They did a test event with [Assistant Director of Hockey Development] Kevin McLaughlin, who is also coaching at the tournament, from our office to make sure they got all the kinks out. They really came up with something that is useable for youth associations and other governing bodies throughout the world. We think it would be a really good format to not only utilize our ice time better from an ice-cost standpoint, but to continue to have that age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate game play as an option for all of our athletes across the board.

USAH: Can you give an example of some of the kinks and logistical issues that the IIHF worked out?

KW: Part of it is that let’s-keep-the-game-going mentality. Since it is 3-on-3, cross-ice, we didn’t want to have a lot of stoppages. That means we really have to be innovative of how the game is played. The 3-on-3 version of ice hockey isn’t going to be the 5-on-5, full-ice version of ice hockey. They took a lot of steps to say, ‘We’re going to make it a little bit different,’ because it is. That’s the cool part about it. There’s only faceoffs for the beginning of the periods and for pucks that go out of play. How does that work when the goalie covers the puck? The kids retreat and when the goalie passes it, they can begin forechecking. When there’s a penalty, the referee’s arm goes up to signal it, but there is not a stoppage. The offending team has to give the puck to the other team or if, for example, a player gets hooked, that player can keep playing as long as they have the puck. It really minimizes the whistles to help keep the kids engaged, help keep kids on the ice and all those types of things.

USAH: Lastly, what is it that you are hoping the players take away from the entire experience of this tournament?

KW: For us, it’s twofold. You want them to have a great Youth Olympic Games experience. The 3-on-3 tournament provides them that in a format that allows them to meet other athletes, be part of a team and be part of a full competition schedule with multiple games with potential semifinals and a gold-medal game. We think that’s a great experience for athletes to have at this age. Having players from multiple national governing bodies on one team provides another whole element of these female athletes getting the opportunity to meet all these other girls that they’re probably going to hear about and know about as they continue through their hockey career. We’ve already seen bonds that are being created between the girls that they would not have had when they used to come in for just a skills competition. The interaction between different countries really lends itself to the spirit of these Youth Olympic Games and the community that is created around the games.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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