The Rock 3 On 3 hockey league was started in part by long-time Fort Frances hockey volunteer and local Sports Hall of Famer, Scott Clendenning who passed away in 2015. Eight years after his passing the league lives on in his memory.
Now into the second week of the 2023 season, The Rock 3 On 3 league sports 35 teams across five age groups and over 300 players.
Local hockey community staple and friend to Clendenning, Brent Tookenay, helped found the league and is one of the driving forces behind keeping it alive 12 years after it began.
“Scott and I and a few others came up with [the league] quite a few years ago now,” Tookenay said. “With Scotty passing away we felt it was something that would keep his memory alive and all he did for helping out kids and giving different opportunities to have fun and enjoy the sport of hockey.”
The Rock brings together hockey players from a vast geographic area from Fort Frances to Atikokan and into Minnesota. Players come from different hockey organizations including local high school teams, Emo Minor Hockey, Fort Frances Minor Hockey and Fort Frances Girls and Womens Hockey among others are represented. The mixed-gender teams feature players of all skill levels, ranked by coaches and members of local hockey organizations in an effort to keep the teams as even as possible.
The league has grown by leaps and bounds over the years.
“We could only take four teams in each division because there just wasn’t enough ice time, because the Town would pull the ice on one rink and the junior team was playing, so it was hard to find enough ice time,” Tookenay said. “After Scott passed away there was an opportunity to expand it a little bit and it’s just really taken off. We convinced the Town to keep the ice in and we have this great program, the kids love it and the parents love it. We’ve just kept building on it. The U-13 division has 10 teams and others have eight.”
The smallest division is the U-18 which has fewer players because many players have other teams to play on, especially if high school teams make deep playoff runs and players also have after-school jobs. For example, some Muskie boys players missed the first week while away at OFSAA championships.
“The philosophy behind it, when Scott and I talked about it, was just keeping the kids on the ice, but getting away from maybe the structures that they’ve had all year long, in terms of formal hockey games and rules,” Tookenay said.
To that end there is very little structure and few rules when players take to the ice in the league. Body checking results in ejection from games, and all other penalties result in a penalty shot. Icing and offsides violations require the offending teams to clear the offensive zone allowing the other team to break out, which they also have to do after a goal.
The league is meant to be fun for players, there aren’t any statistics kept, and there are no standings or championships.
The games are not easy on goaltenders as they are fast-paced and goalies can often see lots of breakaways over the course of the 40 minute run-time game.
“The goalies are fantastic out there too. You get 20 breakaways in a game,” Tookenay said. “Stopping 10 of them is pretty good.”
Tookenay says there are lots of skills which skaters can also work on in the course of the fast-paced open-ice game.
“I think what’s happened is 3 on 3 has evolved a lot over the years,” Tookenay said. “It’s about moving the puck and possessing the puck… I think the two basic things that the Rock 3 On 3 does is give kids the chance to handle the puck and to be able to skate with it, where there’s a lot more open ice. I think that’s really important for kids to have that skill because when it’s five on five and there’s checking and all that stuff it’s hard for kids to work on their skills.”
After 12 years, Tookenay say he thinks they’ve built something Clendenning would appreciate.
“I think Scotty would be proud of where it’s come to and his stamp is on it,” Tookenay said. “A lot of credit to everybody who helps volunteer and make this thing happen. As long as there’s an appetite for it, which I think there will be, it’ll continue to run.”