Hockey is one of the most popular sports in the world, especially in the US and Canada. While the average time of one game is 60 minutes, that is not always the case, and several factors can affect the total duration.
- Gameplay and Intermissions: Hockey games lasts for 60 minutes with three 20-minute periods and 15-minute intermissions.
- Period Length Variations: In international competitions and youth hockey, period lengths can vary.
- Commercial Breaks: Television broadcasts include commercial breaks, adding several minutes to the game.
- Whistle Stoppages: Referees stop play for penalties, icing, offsides, and when the puck goes out of play.
- Tiebreakers: In case of a tie, overtime periods and shootouts are used to determine the winner.
The Structure of the Game
Hockey is typically played with two teams, each consisting of six players on the ice at a time, including one goaltender. The game is divided into three periods, with each period traditionally lasting 20 minutes of actual gameplay.
These periods are separated by two intermissions, which are typically around 15 minutes each. This basic structure applies to professional leagues like the NHL, but variations can occur in different levels of play.
While the 60-minutes period is what we got used to by watching NHL, not all competitions and categories follow this rule.
Professional Leagues (NHL)
In the National Hockey League (NHL), the world’s premier professional hockey league, each period lasts 20 minutes of gameplay. The clock stops whenever there is a whistle for an icing call, penalty, offside, or other stoppage in play.
This stop-and-start nature of the game can extend the actual time spent on the ice for each period.
In international competitions, such as the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) World Championships and the Winter Olympics, periods also typically last 20 minutes.
However, the rules governing overtime and shootout formats may differ from those in professional leagues, affecting the overall game duration in case of a tie.
Amateur and Youth Hockey
Amateur and youth hockey leagues often have variations in period length. For example, youth games may have shorter periods, typically 15 or 12 minutes, to accommodate the players’ age and skill level. These shorter periods lead to shorter game durations.
Intermissions are scheduled breaks between periods, allowing players to rest and providing opportunities for in-arena entertainment and commercial advertising. In professional leagues, intermissions usually last around 15 minutes each.
During these intermissions, teams and coaches discuss strategies, make adjustments, and players receive medical attention if needed.
Factors Affecting Game Duration
Several factors contribute to the overall duration of a hockey game, extending the time beyond the 60 minutes of actual gameplay.
Television broadcasts of hockey games often include commercial breaks. These breaks, which provide valuable advertising revenue, can add several minutes to the total game time.
The frequency and duration of these breaks can vary, depending on the broadcasting network and contractual agreements.
Hockey is a highly regulated sport, and referees blow the whistle to stop play for various reasons, including:
- Penalties: When a player commits a foul or violation, they are sent to the penalty box. The game clock continues to run during most penalty time, extending the period’s duration.
- Icing: When a team shoots the puck from their side of the red centerline across the opponent’s goal line, and it reaches the goal line untouched, icing is called. This results in a faceoff in the offending team’s defensive zone and a stoppage in play.
- Offside: If an attacking player enters the offensive zone before the puck crosses the blue line, an offside infraction is called, leading to a faceoff outside the zone.
- Puck Out of Play: When the puck leaves the playing area (e.g., into the crowd), play stops until the puck is retrieved and returned to the ice.
These stoppages can add significant time to the game, especially in closely contested matches with numerous infractions.
Overtime and Shootouts
In the event of a tie at the end of regulation time, additional periods may be played to determine the winner. Overtime formats vary depending on the league and level of play.
The NHL, for instance, uses a sudden-death overtime period with teams playing four skaters aside (excluding the goaltenders). If no winner is determined in overtime, a shootout may follow to decide the outcome of the game.
Overtime and shootout scenarios can significantly extend the total game time, especially during playoff matches, where every moment is crucial.
|Factor||Description||Estimated Added Time|
|Commercial Breaks||Television broadcasts include commercial breaks for advertising, varying by network and contracts.||2-3 minutes per break|
|Penalties||Game clock continues during penalty time, extending the period’s duration.||2 minutes for minor penalty|
|Icing||Results in a faceoff in the offending team’s defensive zone, stopping play.||1-2 minutes (including faceoff)|
|Offside||Leads to a faceoff outside the offensive zone, stopping play.||1-2 minutes (including faceoff)|
|Puck Out of Play||Play stops until the puck is retrieved and returned to the ice.||1-2 minutes|
Historical Evolution of Hockey Game Duration
The best way to understand the reasons for a specific duration of the game today is to look at some changes that were affecting it over time.
Early Days of Hockey
Hockey’s origins can be traced back to the 19th century, primarily in Canada. In its early days, hockey was often played outdoors on frozen ponds and lakes.
Game durations were flexible, with no standardized period length or game clock. Instead, matches continued until one team reached a predetermined number of goals.
Introduction of Periods
The concept of dividing hockey games into periods with standardized lengths began to take shape in the early 20th century. This change allowed for more structured and regulated gameplay, making the sport more accessible for spectators and organizers.
Modern time brought a modern hokey equipment and timekeeping mechanisms, such as electronic game clocks and scoreboards, revolutionized the way hockey games were managed.
These innovations ensured precise tracking of game time and eliminated the need for timekeepers to manually record the duration of each period.
There are other changes that are seen in various leagues. They can be quite different when compared to the most popular one.
Women’s hockey, played at the highest levels, follows the same period length and intermission duration as men’s hockey. The NHL, NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League), and IIHF tournaments maintain these standards to promote parity and consistency in the sport.
Youth hockey leagues, catering to players of various ages and skill levels, often adapt the game’s duration to suit the physical and developmental needs of young players. Period lengths can range from 12 to 15 minutes, with shorter intermissions.
Recreational and beer league hockey, which emphasizes fun and socialization over competition, may have more flexible game durations. Period lengths and intermission times can be adjusted based on the preferences of the participants, as long as both teams agree to the modifications.
The Impact of Rule Changes
Hockey is a sport that has continuously evolved over the years, and rule changes have played a significant role in shaping the duration and dynamics of the game. These are some of key rule changes that have influenced game duration.
The Introduction of the Red Line
One major rule change that significantly impacted game duration was the introduction of the red line or the centerline. Prior to the red line, forward passing was restricted, and players often had to carry the puck into the offensive zone.
This made it more challenging to move the puck up the ice quickly and led to a more grinding style of play. The introduction of the red line allowed for two-line passes, enabling players to pass the puck from their own defensive zone through the neutral zone to a teammate beyond the opponent’s blue line.
This change increased the speed of the game, creating more scoring opportunities and reducing the time spent in the neutral zone.
Goaltender Equipment Regulations
Another important rule change that impacted game duration was the regulation of goaltender equipment. In the past, goaltenders could wear oversized equipment that made them more difficult to score against.
As a result, games often featured lower scores and longer periods of play without goals. Regulations were introduced to limit the size and dimensions of goaltender equipment, making it more proportional to the size of the goaltender.
This change allowed for more goals and increased scoring, which could potentially shorten game durations, especially when one team establishes a significant lead.
Why do some NHL games seem to last longer than others, even when they have the same regulation time?
The total duration of an NHL game can vary due to factors like the number of whistle stoppages, penalties, and the pace of play. A game with more infractions or slower gameplay may extend beyond the typical 60 minutes.
How does the size of the hockey rink affect game duration?
The size of the rink, while standardized in professional leagues, can vary in other levels of play. Smaller rinks can lead to faster-paced games, potentially reducing game duration, while larger rinks may result in more extended gameplay due to increased skating distances.
Are there any restrictions on the number of overtime periods in professional hockey games?
Yes, in professional leagues like the NHL, there is typically a limit on the number of overtime periods during the regular season. If a game remains tied after a single overtime period, it proceeds to a shootout to determine the winner.
The duration of a hockey game is influenced by a combination of factors, including the level of play, rule changes, commercial interests, and game management strategies.
While the standard duration of 60 minutes of actual gameplay remains a common benchmark in professional leagues like the NHL, variations exist in youth, amateur, and recreational hockey.
Rule changes have evolved the sport, impacting the speed and scoring, and overtime formats have been adapted to ensure fair outcomes.