How Long Is a Hockey Game

How Long Is a Hockey Game

Hockey is a fast-paced, thrilling sport that has captivated audiences worldwide for over a century. The duration of a hockey game can vary depending on the level of play, the league, and whether the game goes into overtime. In this article, we’ll explore the different factors that influence how long a hockey game lasts, including regulation time, intermissions, overtime, and other variables that come into play.

Regulation Time

A standard professional hockey game, such as those played in the National Hockey League (NHL), consists of three periods, each lasting 20 minutes. This totals 60 minutes of playing time. However, the clock is stopped whenever play is halted, such as for penalties, goals, or the puck leaving the ice. This means that the actual time spent watching the game is much longer than the 60 minutes of playing time.


Between each period, there is a 15- to 20-minute intermission. These breaks allow players to rest, strategize, and recover. For the audience, it’s a time to grab refreshments, discuss the game, and perhaps watch entertainment or analyses provided by commentators. In the NHL, the intermissions are usually 18 minutes long, so with two intermissions in a game, this adds roughly 36 minutes to the total time.

Overtime and Shootouts

If the game is tied at the end of regulation time, it proceeds to overtime. The rules for overtime can vary depending on the league and the stage of the season. In the NHL regular season, overtime consists of a five-minute, sudden-death period where the first team to score wins. During the playoffs, overtime periods are 20 minutes each, and they continue until a team scores, leading to potentially much longer games.

If no team scores during the regular season overtime, the game goes to a shootout. Each team selects three players to take one-on-one shots against the opposing goalie. If the score remains tied after the initial three shooters, the shootout continues in a sudden-death format until one team scores and the other does not. The shootout can add an additional 10-15 minutes to the game.

Total Time Commitment

Taking all these factors into account, a regular NHL game without overtime typically lasts about 2.5 to 3 hours from the opening faceoff to the final buzzer. This includes the 60 minutes of play, two 18-minute intermissions, and the various stoppages in play.

If the game goes into overtime and potentially a shootout, it can stretch to 3.5 hours or more. Playoff games, with their longer overtime periods, can last significantly longer. Some playoff games have extended into multiple overtime periods, leading to games that can last 4-5 hours or even more in extreme cases.

Other Leagues and Levels

The duration of hockey games at other levels, such as collegiate, junior, and international play, can differ slightly. College hockey games, for example, also consist of three 20-minute periods but have 15-minute intermissions. Overtime rules can vary; in some cases, college games end in a tie if no one scores in the initial overtime period.

Youth and amateur hockey leagues often have shorter periods. For instance, youth hockey games may feature three 12- or 15-minute periods. These games typically do not have intermissions as long as those in professional games, which shortens the overall duration.

International competitions, governed by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), follow similar rules to the NHL but can have slight variations in intermission length and overtime rules, especially in tournament play.

Special Cases: Televised Games and Events

Televised games, especially those broadcast nationally or internationally, may have slightly longer intermissions to accommodate commercial breaks. Additionally, high-profile events like the NHL Winter Classic or the Stanley Cup Finals might have extended pre-game and intermission entertainment, which can add to the total duration of the event.

Why Understanding Game Duration Matters

Knowing how long a hockey game typically lasts is important for several reasons. For fans attending a live game, it helps in planning their visit, including travel to and from the venue. For those watching at home, it helps in scheduling their viewing time and any accompanying activities. Additionally, for players and coaches, understanding game duration is crucial for conditioning and strategy.

Game Pace and Rule Changes

The pace of the game can also affect its duration. Over the years, hockey leagues have implemented various rule changes to speed up the game and make it more exciting for fans. For example, the NHL introduced a rule to reduce the length of line changes during stoppages and to penalize teams that intentionally cause delays.

Furthermore, the introduction of video review and coach’s challenges in recent years has added new elements that can affect the length of a game. While these reviews aim to ensure the accuracy of calls, they can sometimes lead to extended stoppages in play.

Historical Perspective

Historically, the length of hockey games has evolved. In the early days of the sport, periods were not uniformly 20 minutes, and intermissions were shorter. The standardization of game length has been part of the sport’s professionalization and the establishment of leagues like the NHL.

Moreover, the style of play has also evolved. Older games tended to be slower, with less emphasis on speed and more on physical play. Modern hockey is faster and more skill-oriented, which can lead to more stoppages and a different overall game rhythm.

Fan Experience

From a fan’s perspective, the length of a hockey game is part of the overall experience. The anticipation during intermissions, the sudden-death excitement of overtime, and the nerve-wracking intensity of shootouts all contribute to the thrill of the sport. Fans appreciate the structure and pacing of the game, which balances intense action with moments of rest and analysis.


In summary, a typical professional hockey game, such as those in the NHL, lasts about 2.5 to 3 hours, including regulation time, intermissions, and stoppages. Overtime and shootouts can extend this duration, especially during the playoffs where games can last much longer. The length of hockey games at other levels and in different leagues can vary slightly but generally follows a similar structure.

Understanding the factors that influence the duration of a hockey game helps fans, players, and coaches prepare and enjoy the sport to its fullest. Whether it’s the quick pace of regulation play, the strategic breaks during intermissions, or the high stakes of overtime, the length of a hockey game is a key part of what makes it one of the most exciting sports to watch and play.

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