All Heart and Hustle in this League

Justin Fox | Photo courtesy of 3HL Tour

Justin Fox knows how to hustle. He’s the 38-year-old entrepreneur, and AU MBA ‘15 grad, we featured last year, Justin Fox is an entrepreneur with vision and a plan. Justin’s kind of hustle involves buckets of sweat equity, fitting of the hockey environment where he’s building his business.

A year ago, Justin waxed enthusiastically about his idea for a professional three-on-three hockey league. He figured this fast-paced brand of the sport – only recently introduced by the NHL for its overtime format – could draw fans as a game in its own right. He used Twitter to recruit elite Canadians from junior and university backgrounds who had played in the minor or European pro leagues, and in some cases, even the NHL. He held several training camps where he evaluated players and assembled teams, and he negotiated arena and sponsorship deals. All this while he was running his full-time operation, The Mobility Shop, a home health care equipment distribution company.

Justin organized a tournament-based circuit with eight squads located in and around Toronto and southwestern Ontario. The 3HL Tour got underway on New Year’s Day, 2017, at the Mattamy Centre in Toronto. Five more events followed through to April, all in towns within a few hours’ drive from Toronto, with the tour finale, the Champions Cup, taking place on May 6th in Oshawa. The tourneys are on weekends, featuring an eight-team, single knockout format played in one afternoon’s adrenalin rush of 14-minute games with seven-minute halves.

This “go-go-go” sub-species of the game is attracting a growing fanbase in smaller centres like Guelph, Collingwood, and Saugeen Shores, Ontario (near Owen Sound). The April 1st tournament in Aurora, Ontario, the “Danglefest”, almost filled the local arena with over a 1000 bums in the seats. These aren’t remotely close to NHL numbers right now, but Justin anticipates a thriving professional league offering an exciting alternative for Canadians.

Live pre-game bands, $20 tickets, $15,000 in cash for the winning teams, and snappy videos on the 3hltour.com website creates a high-energy vibe for these weekend tournaments. Although Justin has plowed a lot of his own capital into his first season, he’s already brought in some strong sponsors and he foresees escalating growth over the next couple of years.

With run-and-gun hockey served up by pro-calibre players as his core product, Justin is looking forward to expanding next season, with plans for three events per month for an 18-tourney schedule. He’s also fielding a spate of calls from newly-retired pros looking for roster spots, guys who want to stay in the game and get paid to play while they pursue their post-hockey careers.

Theo Peckham | Photo courtesy of 3HL Tour

One of those ex-pros, who’s been with the 3HL Tour since day one, is Theo Peckham. At 30, he’s still young enough to play the 3HL speed game, but he’s a veteran with 160 games on defence over five NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, and a few more in the minors. Peckham was a fan favourite in Edmonton, thanks to his hard-nosed style of play and his willingness to drop the gloves with all comers. He doesn’t hold many fond memories of his time on an NHL blueline; the constant struggle to stay in the lineup, and the banging, fighting, and concussions, took their toll.

But now, as he trains to become a firefighter, Peckham says of the 3HL Tour: “I’m having a blast. It’s a good chance to make a little money, have a career, and play good hockey on the weekends.” This D-man in a no-D league is thriving, using his scarred hands for shooting instead of throwing punches to place him fourth in 3HL scoring at the end of April. “It’s all about skating and conditioning,” he says, explaining that the absence of an offside rule in Justin’s league means non-stop, end-to-end action. He’s not sniffing at the prize money either, given that his 10-man team has won roughly $20,000 for six weekends’ work to date.

The packed arena in Aurora, the budding interest from players and sponsors, and stories like Theo Peckham’s are what drive Justin Fox. He believes strongly in the viability of the 3HL as a true professional hockey league that can offer elite players major prize money and Canadian fans great entertainment.

Justin has already proved he can put wheels on an idea. Now he’s working towards a bigger, better 3-on-3 tour with more teams in more Ontario centres, and eventually, expansion into western Canada. This AU alumnus is worth keeping an eye on. As the hockey scouts like to say, “He’s got all the tools” – in his case, a well-conceived plan and the capacity for ceaseless, grinding effort worthy of a checking forward.