Living in Texas, Jason Montgomery’s only exposure to the game of hockey had been on wheels.
Getting on a sheet of ice was a new experience for him, but he had all the desire necessary to learn the sport.
Montgomery enrolled in the Adult FUNdamental course last June, run by the Dallas Stars and taking place at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas. After learning the basic skills of the sport in a four-week crash course, Montgomery was ready to skate in an adult league.
The Stars have made it a smooth transition for the Adult FUNdamental skaters to move right into the 3-on-3 division, which is at the D2 level in the Senior Stars Hockey League (SSHL). The summer of 2016 was the first time the program was offered by the Stars. The 3-on-3 division runs for just six weeks at a time, so they are quick sessions offered multiple times per calendar year.
“It was a good way to kind of learn some basic playing, basic skills, playing the game atmosphere,” said Montgomery, who plays for Team Milwaukee’s Best at the Frisco arena. “You get to shoot and pass without the full running up and down the ice and full 5-on-5 action.”
The 3-on-3 division has become very popular among its 80 skaters and eight teams playing out of the Stars’ rinks in Frisco and Richardson. The Stars are trying to expand the league to its other locations in Euless, Farmers Branch, McKinney and Plano.
Similar to Montgomery, Jon McFeely decided to pick up hockey six months ago. He took the Adult FUNdamental course and got into the 3-on-3 division. He loves playing in the wide-open, hour-long games, which are on half sheets of ice.
“Right now I prefer it because I’m around guys that are around my level,” said McFeely, who is a member of Team Schlitz at the Frisco rink. “There’s not much of a difference in everyone. On 5v5, you get the puck a few times. But on 3v3, every single time you go out there you have the puck on you.”
Montgomery, 31, likes the 3-on-3 concept because it allows players who aren’t too familiar with hockey to work on their skills and have more interaction than in a regular 5-on-5 game.
“It’s actually faster and higher scoring than the typical 5-on-5 game because the 5-on-5 is full ice and it’s going to slow everything down,” Montgomery said. “The 3-on-3 is a lot faster paced, you’re always in the zone. It’s pond hockey — there’s no icing, there’s no offsides. So a turnover you’re already in your own zone, so you can get shots on.”
The 3-on-3 format has rapidly been gaining popularity in Texas. Montgomery believes playing that style of hockey is ideal for entry-level players.
“It’s fun to play and everybody has a lot of fun playing it because of it being fast-paced,” Montgomery said. “And it’s not as serious as some of the leagues when you have 20 games in a season and you’re playing for an actual playoff spot and the games get more heated. This is a lot more entry level, and so with the Stars gaining popularity here in Texas, there’s more people kind of wanting to get into it.”
McFeely, 29, noted the Stars have made it easy to get into the 3-on-3 division to allow players to learn the sport.
“It’s kind of intimidating if you didn’t play in high school or anything to getting into a sport where you normally have to drop a ton of money,” McFeely said. “But they provide you with fundamental classes and 3v3, it’s just like there’s no negative aspect to it. Everyone is out there and they’re pretty much bad and then they help you get better.”
Along with running the 3-on-3 division, the Stars put on their first 3-on-3 tournament from Dec. 30-Jan. 1. The event featured 10 teams and was held at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Richardson.
Jonathan Gauthier, who plays for The Boys Hockey Club, skated in the tournament — his first time in the 3-on-3 format. Before putting his team on the ice, Gauthier did a little research on the best methods to implement for playing 3-on-3. He used nine skaters with three lines; each line brought a different aspect to the ice.
“Our first line will have one chaser and two sitting back a little bit,” Gauthier said. “Our second line will have two chasing and one sitting back, and the third line will have one in front, one in back and one sort of in the middle and kind of going with what needs to be done. We kept that going steady and that worked.”
That worked perfectly as The Boys took home first place in the D Division.
Gauthier, 35, loves the concept of 3-on-3 hockey and implementing different strategies.
“When you play 5-on-5, especially in the adult league, you’re a little bit limited to playing every week and you really don’t get to practice with each and do drills and our strategies develop on the fly,” Gauthier said. “I think 3-on-3 is different strategies, different approach and I think was very interesting for everybody to get a little change.”
McFeely expects to see 3-on-3 hockey continue to gain popularity in north central Texas.
“I honestly thought it wasn’t going to be as popular as it is,” McFeely said. “But they keep expanding and they added two more teams this [session]. It’s pretty popular. People keep signing up for it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”