Ice hockey is a team sport that is played in an ice rink. It originated…
Ice hockey is considered to be among the fastest team sports in the world, but to keep the game so fast-paced, play needs to stop at times for ice resurfacing. That happens between periods. But how many periods there are in a hockey game depends on the league and whether it’s a regular season game or a playoff match.
Keep reading to learn the number of periods in a hockey game, the duration of each, and ultimately how long it can take until a game is won. As an added bonus, you’ll discover some epic stats on the longest shootouts, playoffs, and overtime periods that made the history books!
In regulation play, there are always three periods in a hockey game. Smaller leagues have different rules, sometimes playing two periods of 25 minutes each. Decades ago, the National Hockey League (NHL) games used to be played over two periods of 30 minutes each. This was changed in the 1910-11 NHL season to improve game speed and player safety.
In the NHL, the hockey period length is always 20 minutes. In the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), All-Star games are played over two periods of 25 minutes apiece.
Recreational hockey is different, as is college hockey, because of booking times for the arena.
Recreational leagues are shorter games of either two 25-minute periods or three 20-minute periods. The intermission (break) times for ice resurfacing can be as short as three minutes—just enough time to resurface the ice.
Intervals last for 15 minutes, 30 seconds in the large league games. The time is used to resurface the ice. Using a zamboni machine, the top layer of ice is buffered and an even layer of water spread that freezes during periods to leave a fresh layer of ice for the next period. For spectators, this is the time to get refreshments, toilet breaks, etc. It’s during this time that advertisements will be broadcast on the large screens, too.
Televised games have longer intermissions of 17 minutes to allow time for commercial advertisements.
In smaller league games such as college hockey, intervals between periods can be as short as three minutes, just enough time for the zamboni machine to resurface the ice and for players to catch their breath, then return to game play.
Something unique to hockey is that game time is in fact 20 minutes of play, not 20 minutes from the start of the period. The game clock will stop when…
Each of these events stop the game clock. The countdown starts again when the puck is back in play.
Technically, no. In the event of a tie, the game goes to overtime. Overtime periods are referred to as OP1, OP2, and so on, but that only applies to the playoffs. In a regular season game, there is only one overtime period of five minutes.
A regular season game is played over three regulation periods of 20 minutes each, plus at least two intermissions of 15 minutes minimum. Total game play time is 65 minutes. Then, if scores are tied at the end of the third period and following a five-minute overtime period, it goes to a shootout.
A shootout happens when scores are tied at the end of the overtime period of five minutes in a regular season game. Shootouts are played in the NHL as 3-on-3, meaning each team picks three players to take alternating shots at goal. Each team has three shots at goal. If neither team scores, the game goes to sudden death.
In sudden death, rather than a round of three shots at goal by the three players chosen by the team coach, the same three players continue on a shot-by-shot basis until one team scores and the other misses. This will continue until there is a clear winner.
The sudden death shootout was introduced by the NHL in the 2005-06 league to eliminate ties, but it is only applicable to regular season games, not the playoffs.
To date, the most shootout rounds played in sudden death is 20, and that game was in 2014 between the Washington Capitals and the Florida Panthers.
In the NHL, overtime periods are played 3-on-3, meaning each team has three players plus one goalkeeper, better known as the “goalie.” Teams can choose to pull their goalie in favor of an extra attacker.
When a team plays with four attackers, they will forfeit the extra point in the league standings that they’d be awarded for winning. So if you see overtime being played with four attackers and no goalie, it’s a defensive strategy to protect the team’s standing in the league table.
Essentially, it’s the coach’s decision to adopt an offensive strategy to prevent losing a point in the league table.
In overtime, the first team to score a goal wins the game. If the game is played 3-on-3 (not 4-on-3), the winning team gets 2 points in the league table.
In the playoffs, overtime periods continue until there’s a winner.
The longest NHL game was played over six overtime periods. That was the 1936 NHL Semis between Detroit and the Montreal Maroons that ran a total game play time of 176 minutes and 30 seconds. Keep in mind that game play time is the time the puck is on the ice, in play, not the total duration of the game.
In the playoffs, overtime periods are the same as regulation periods, lasting 20 minutes of play. The five-minute overtime rule is only for regular season games. Essentially, in the playoffs, overtime periods are the same as regulation play.
The only difference is that there are shorter intermissions. After each overtime period, breaks last only a few minutes, during which time the ice is resurfaced and then play resumes.
Surprisingly, the 1936 Semis was not the longest hockey game—it was the longest NHL game. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) confirmed in 2017 that the 11-period hockey game between the Norwegian teams Storhamar Dragons and Sparta Warriors was the longest. The total game play time was 217 minutes and 14 seconds. That game started at 6pm and ended at 2:32am.
When you factor for overtime periods in playoffs, there’s no telling how many periods there might be in a hockey game. In regulation play, there will always be three periods of 20 minutes each, but in the playoffs, when there must be a winner, overtime periods continue until there is a clear winner that isn’t decided by a shootout!
To answer the question of how many periods in hockey, there are always three regulation periods plus one overtime period of five minutes. If the score remains tied, the game goes to sudden death.
In playoff matches, overtime periods last 20 minutes and continue until there is a winner. There is no shootout in playoff matches and no limit on how many periods there can be.
To date, the most periods in a hockey game was 11 in international hockey. In the NHL, no game has gone beyond six overtime periods.