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Flames quick study in first three-on-three spin

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- That three-on-three action? It reminds Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley a little like the Wild West.

At least one part, that is.

“I thought I was in a saloon,” Hartley started. “It’s just like a saloon door. It flops on both sides. It’s great. I think that the fans will love this. It’s one mistake and you’re in trouble and they make a mistake and they’re in trouble. It’s as simple as this. Lets face it, it’s the most skilled players, the best skaters that are on the ice, so it makes for unbelievable hockey.”

Hartley and the Flames got their first sneak peek at the new overtime format Friday against the Vancouver Canucks.

Following a 4-1 win at Scotiabank Saddledome, both teams lined up for the scheduled exhibition and, 1:35 into the bonus round, Kris Russell beat Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom to double down.

Jumping off the bench on a swap with Dennis Wideman, Russell took a pass from Sean Monahan, skated around the Vancouver zone and to the net and firing a shot that hit the far post before wrapping into the back of the net.

The new format, Russell suggested, might take some getting used to.

“It’s a little different,” he said. “The first crew that went out there did a real good job. Puck possession is huge. Faceoffs are huge. The little details in three-on-three are going to be huge. [Wideman] makes a great change, I had some energy and we caught those guys that were tired because they were defending for a while. It’s different. We’re going to have to have some game plans going into it because it’s a lot of room and a lot of skating.”

Starting this season, all games tied after regulation will default to a three-on-three overtime period, replacing the four-on-four, five-minute setup in years past.

It opens up an endless number of options for coaches and players alike.

Hartley, for example, opted to start Friday’s extra frame with Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton. They were soon replaced by Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman.

When Wideman swapped for Russell, the experiment ended.

The possibilities do not.

Neither does the excitement.

“It’s fun. It’s exciting,” Monahan said. “I was just happy to be a part of that. It’s going to change things a little bit, but I think it’s going to change for the better.”

It’s not without its challenges, either.

Though it took the Flames just 95 seconds to solve their first installment, plenty was learned in the two-plus shifts skated -- Calgary’s first in-game endeavor.

“Pretty quick you get tired out there when you’re three-on-three,” Monahan said. “If you can get a change and get a fresh guy out there it’s going to be good. [Russell] hopped out there and basically carried it to the net and had a pretty goal.”

The biggest lesson learned?

Simple, suggested Monahan.

“I think its puck possession,” he said. “You’ve got to win faceoffs and get the puck or you’re going to be chasing it the whole time. It’s going to be important to have the puck and really not dump it in and lose it. It’s all about possession and finding ways to create offence.”

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