How many periods in hockey?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 19, 2024

Standard Number of Periods in Professional Hockey

In professional hockey leagues, such as the National Hockey League (NHL), a standard game is divided into three periods. Each period is 20 minutes long, leading to a total of 60 minutes of regulation play. This structure is consistent across most of the world's professional hockey leagues.

The Role of Intermissions

Between each of the three periods, there are intermissions. These breaks typically last 15 to 20 minutes and serve several purposes:

  • Allowing players to rest and recover.
  • Giving coaches the opportunity to adjust strategies.
  • Providing time for ice resurfacing, enhancing the quality of play.

Intermissions also offer entertainment for fans, including activities like contests and performances.

Overtime and Shootouts

Overtime in Regular Season Games

If the game is tied at the end of the three regulation periods, many leagues, including the NHL, implement an overtime period. In the NHL regular season, overtime is a 5-minute, sudden-death period played with three skaters per side (3-on-3), plus the goalies. The first team to score wins the game, and the game ends immediately.

Overtime in Playoff Games

During the playoffs, the format changes significantly. Overtime periods in the playoffs are 20 minutes long, similar to a regular period, but they are played 5-on-5. This continues until a team scores, potentially leading to multiple overtime periods if the game remains tied.


If the game is still tied after the overtime period in the regular season, a shootout is used to determine the winner. Each team selects three players to take alternating shots against the opposing goalie. If the score remains tied after these initial attempts, the shootout proceeds to a sudden-death format, where the game is decided once one team scores and the other does not.

International Hockey Variations

International hockey, governed by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), generally follows a similar three-period structure. However, overtime and shootout rules may differ slightly:

  • In international tournaments, overtime during the knockout stages can be longer.
  • Some tournaments may use a 10-minute overtime period before proceeding to a shootout.

College and Amateur Hockey

College Hockey

College hockey in the United States, governed by bodies such as the NCAA, also uses the three-period format. Each period is 20 minutes long, and intermissions are typically 15 minutes. Overtime in college hockey is often a 5-minute, sudden-death period, but some conferences may have additional rules or variations, especially during tournament play.

Amateur and Youth Hockey

Amateur and youth hockey leagues generally adopt the three-period format, but the length of each period can vary depending on the age group and level of play. For instance:

  • Younger age groups might play 12 or 15-minute periods.
  • Older youth leagues and high school hockey may use 17 or 20-minute periods.

Intermissions and overtime rules can also vary widely in these leagues.

Historical Perspectives

The Evolution of Hockey Periods

Hockey has not always been played in three periods. In the early days of the sport, games were often played in two halves, similar to soccer. The change to three periods was made to improve the quality of the ice surface and provide regular rest breaks for players.

Impact on Game Play

The shift to a three-period structure significantly impacted the game's dynamics. It allowed for more strategic planning and better management of player stamina, ultimately leading to a faster and more skillful style of play.

Interesting Facts and Trivia

Longest NHL Game

The longest game in NHL history occurred on March 24, 1936, between the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Maroons. The game went into six overtimes, totaling 176 minutes and 30 seconds of play before Detroit finally scored to win the game.

Shortest Overtime

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some overtime periods end almost as soon as they begin. The fastest overtime goal in NHL history was scored by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, just 6 seconds into the overtime period.

Unusual Period Lengths

While the standard period length is 20 minutes, there have been instances where periods were shorter. For example, during the early 20th century, some leagues experimented with 15-minute periods to accommodate scheduling and travel constraints.

Adapting to Different Formats

Hockey's flexibility in period lengths and structures allows it to be adapted for various settings, from professional leagues to youth tournaments. This adaptability helps to cater to different levels of player skill and endurance, ensuring that the game remains engaging and competitive across all levels.

By examining the structure and nuances of hockey periods, one can appreciate the intricate balance between tradition and innovation in the sport. Whether it's the standard three periods in professional leagues or the variations found in amateur play, each format adds a unique layer to the game's rich tapestry.

Related Questions

How long is a hockey game?

In professional hockey leagues such as the National Hockey League (NHL), a standard game consists of three periods, each lasting 20 minutes. This results in 60 minutes of regular playtime. However, the actual time spectators spend watching a game is considerably longer due to various factors.

Ask Hotbot: How long is a hockey game?

How many quarters in hockey?

In contrast to many other sports, hockey does not follow the traditional division of play into quarters. Instead, hockey games are divided into periods. This structure is pivotal to understanding how the game is played, how strategies are formed, and how the flow of the game is maintained.

Ask Hotbot: How many quarters in hockey?

How long are hockey games?

A typical ice hockey game is structured with three periods, each lasting 20 minutes, which amounts to a total of 60 minutes of playtime. However, the actual time spent in the arena is significantly longer due to various interruptions and intermissions.

Ask Hotbot: How long are hockey games?

How long does a hockey game last?

In professional ice hockey, such as the National Hockey League (NHL), a standard game consists of three periods. Each period is 20 minutes long, for a total of 60 minutes of play. The clock stops frequently, however, leading to a longer overall experience.

Ask Hotbot: How long does a hockey game last?