The Length of a Professional Hockey Game

Ice hockey stick and puck on rink
A hockey stick and puck on the ice. (Image: razihusin/iStock/Getty Images)

Although hockey features rules concerning the length of each game, certain things can happen that will extend the game significantly. Overtime, injuries and the fact that the clock stops on every whistle cause games to last much longer than their 60-minute time limits. The NHL has rules that limit these stoppages, however, ensuring that most games finish within a desirable period of time.

Time

Each NHL game features 60 minutes of playing time, broken down into three 20-minute periods. The league also mandates a 17-minute intermission after the first and second periods to flood and ice and provide the players with a rest period. Arenas must have a score clock to keep spectators and players informed about these time frames.

Average Length

The NHL attempts to keep games to a reasonable length, as most fans do not want to sit in the stands for an excessive period. During the 2003-2004 season, the average NHL game lasted two hours and 19 minutes, which remains significantly lower than the two hours and 36 minutes that NHL games averaged in 1986-1987.

Overtime and Shootout

If a game has a tied score at the end of the 60 minutes of standard playing time, the teams will play an additional overtime period of five minutes. If neither team scores during this additional time, the teams will take part in a three-player shootout. No time limits exist during the shootout, as it will continue until one team wins. The longest shootout in NHL history occurred in 2005 when the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers took 15 rounds to decide a winner.

Commercial Break

Television commercial breaks remain a part of every NHL game, although they do feature regulations. The National Hockey League Commercial Coordinator handles all of these commercial breaks and fits them into the game when needed. No commercial breaks can occur after a goal or after an icing infraction.

Playoffs

During the playoffs, games can expand considerably because they do not settle these games with a shootout. Overtime in the Stanley Cup Playoffs uses 20-minute periods, ending when one team scores a goal. Each intermission during the playoffs lasts an additional 15 minutes. The longest overtime in NHL history occurred in 1936 when the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Montreal Maroons 1-0 after 116 minutes and 30 seconds of overtime.

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