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Three's Company

Three games in three days is a grind - and common practice in the AHL. The Isles and Sound Tigers share their three-in-three stories.

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / NewYorkIslanders.com

Before they got to the All-Star break and the league-mandated bye week, the New York Islanders had to go through a grueling stretch of five games in seven days. Two sets of back-to-backs, with a rivalry game in between, marked one of the busiest stretches of the season for the Isles. 

But ask any of the players who came up through the American Hockey League, or are currently playing in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and they'll tell you the back-to-backs are nothing.

Try the three-in-threes. 

It's exactly like it sounds, three games in three days, most commonly played as a Friday-Saturday-Sunday split. They're outlawed in the NHL, but are fairly common in the AHL, especially in the northeast. This year, the Sound Tigers have nine. 

NewYorkIslanders.com caught up with Sound Tigers past and present to get an inside look at one of the toughest grinds in hockey. 


NYI: DESCRIBE A THREE-IN-THREE

Devon Toews (Bridgeport Sound Tiger 2016-18):

"Three-in-three might be the most difficult thing to try and accomplish. A lot of things go into those weekends, you at least try to win two. The Sunday game often turned into a special teams battle, but it's tough. A lot of times there's a four or five hour bus ride in there too - each way - so it's a mental grind as much as it is physical. We go back-to-backs here and we just try to attack those as a mental grind more than physical because we're all in such good shape. Once you get a three-in-three, it's a physical grind too."

Michael Dal Colle (Bridgeport Sound Tiger 2016-19): 

"It's a tough because sometimes it's three in less than three. You play your first game at 7 p.m. on a Friday and then by Sunday, it's a 3 o'clock game, so it's a three in less than three, so it's tough. It's a mental grind, it's a physical grind. I think the days off on Monday are needed, that's for sure."

"It's a lot of hockey in less than 72 hours and against still some of the best players in the world. It's still a really good league, so I'm not a big fan of it personally and I don't think you could find too many guys who are."


Tweet from @TheSoundTigers: Brent Thompson will work game 5���0���0��� as an #AHL head coach tomorrow night in Hartford! He reflects on the first 499, his relationship with the @NYIslanders and more.Full video: https://t.co/EeqPjpnRgf pic.twitter.com/AwVT6Y33jX

NYI: IS IT HARDER MENTALLY OR PHYSICALLY? 

Brent Thompson (Bridgeport Sound Tigers Head Coach 2011-12, 2014-20): 

"It's three games in two-and-a-half days. It's more mentally exhausting probably than physically. The physical side you're numb to by the third game and guys are in a routine."

Barry Trotz (AHL Assistant 1991-92 & Head Coach 1992-97): 

"There were a couple times where we played and then had a seven-hour bus ride, you played in another place and then had a four-hour bus ride after the game and then you played the next day. I do remember how disoriented you were. That was the number one thing, you were numb."

Colin McDonald (Bridgeport Sound Tiger, 12-year AHL Veteran):

"The hard part is everything that leads up to that game. Waking up in the morning. Getting to the rink. Lingering around the locker room, but once you get on the ice, guys are fine. Your competitive juices kind of take over. It's going to bed after the game on Saturday knowing you have to do it again in a couple hours. That's the mental battle you have to get through."

Ross Johnston (Bridgeport Sound Tiger 2015-18): 

"You feel like your body goes through a wringer. It's a different game down there too. NHL is obviously more speed and little less hitting than it used to be, but in the AHL you take a step back and it's physically draining. You get hit everywhere you look, guys are trying to make an impression every game, cranking guys, fighting.

It really is insane down there, so you have to give those guys a lot of credit."


NYI: WHAT'S THE CRAZIEST STORY YOU HAVE FROM A THREE-IN-THREE? 

Trotz: "When I was in Baltimore we were really the most southern team other than Hershey and we were playing a three-in-three in the New Haven area… Our first game was pretty far and I remember we our third game was a 1 p.m. Sunday in New Haven, and we had played the night before. I don't think we got in until 3 or 4 in the morning, but we played the next day. And I remember this, we won in OT against New Haven. 

Everybody was getting on the bus and we had a college player named Mike Boback. Everybody was like 'where's Bo?' 'we don't see Bo?' and they're like 'his clothes are still here.' 

He fell asleep on the bench.

At the end of the game, he was so tired cause I played him a lot - he was a good, young player. We won the game he went 'oh thank god we made it through the weekend' and he leaned back and closed his eyes for a second and fell asleep. We basically found him on the bench. He just had a little nap.

He was exhausted and then he had to bus home from New Haven to Baltimore."

Ryan Pulock (Bridgeport Sound Tiger 2014-17): 

"First year pro we had a back-to-back in Norfolk and were supposed to play a 3 o'clock game back in Bridgeport, the Sunday three-in-three, which is like a 7.5 hour drive. We played the two games in Norfolk and were boarding a sleeper bus for the way home to try and let guys get some sleep since we were going to be rolling in early in the morning. Our bus broke down like part way home and we were stuck on the side of the road. They got another bus for us, but we were going to be too late to make it back for the time for our last game of the three-in-three. We never ended up playing, it got postponed. 

Everyone was eating at Denny's or something and I think we were all praying that the game was going to be cancelled since we hadn't slept and we were going to get back and have to play a game."


NYI: DOES IT HELP GUYS BOND TO GRIND THROUGH THREE-IN-THREES TOGETHER?

Toews: You're grinding together, so you create a different bond there and a different sort of relationship when you go through that together with guys. When you're getting those four or five hour bus rides, a lot of guys are watching movies or playing cards, so there's some good conversation to be had."

(Editor's note: Cards are a popular way to pass the time on the bus. The team had a custom table made - with Islanders upholstery - to fit in the aisle of the bus so that players in three rows could play at the same time.)

Johnston: "We had [the tables] pretty dolled up too. One was measured perfectly. It sat in the aisle, through three rows, so it was nice and long. It had blue felt with the Isles logo stitched in. I forget who did it up, but it had a nice edge so you could tuck your cards under. You have to make the best of it, you really do."

Dal Colle: "It's four CCM sticks over this orange plywood table. It was perfect for cards. We'd have eight player games, play Shnarps and it was really fun. I'd prefer it not being on a three in three, but they do bring some good memories I guess."

Johnston: "It's maturing because you spend a lot of time on the bus with the guys and play cards and you're not the only one, there are 20 guys doing the exact same thing. It's kind of nice too, everyone can complain about it together."

Thompson: "Three-in-threes are always a challenge. The part that I like to see is the guys gutting through it."

Kyle Burroughs (Current Bridgeport Sound Tigers captain):

"Anytime you go into a three-in-three, you know you have to be there for the guy next to you. Whether it's your line-mate or your D-partner, anyone on the team, you're there to pick each other up. Someone will fuel the fire, whether it's a big hit to get the boys going. It's always fun to weather that together. When you're done you look back on it and especially when you're on the winning end, it's always extra sweet when you win those games."


FINAL THOUGHT: 

The consensus is that three-in-threes are a grind and most players are happy to leave them behind. Colin McDonald had a slightly different take on the experience. The 35-year-old is in his 12th AHL season and has logged a lot of three-in-threes in his day. It's given him some perspective and he tries to impart that on the young Sound Tigers. He gets the last word.

McDonald: Every couple years it changes. The middle of my career I would complain about it and go 'what are we doing, this isn't fair, blah blah blah,' and just kind of have that woe is me mentality. Now that I'm older, I'm just so grateful to be able to still have those opportunities to play in games that you'll never hear me complain about three-in-threes.

That's kind of my message to guys. They do complain a little bit on those Sundays, and I'm not trying to be a hardo, I get it, but I say hey we have an opportunity to play. It took me 10/11/12 years to change that mindset, but when you get closer to the end, you don't take things for granted anymore. I'm thankful to still have those opportunities and that's how I help motivate the younger guys is to shift their perspective a little bit."

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