How long is a hockey game? NHL, college, and recreation

When you are going to watch a hockey game a natural question to ask is ‘how long is a hockey game’?  As with any sport, it takes longer in real time than the official number of minutes played.

So how long is an ice hockey game? An ice hockey game has a total of 60 minutes of playing time in regulation. However, in real time the game duration works out to be 2.5 to 3 hours for leagues like the NHL when you include all of the stops, intermissions, and possible overtime. 

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Rangers vs Red Wings

Let’s take a look at how long a hockey game actually takes to play and the many factors that go into an actual game – warmups, intermissions, timeouts, and overtime.

Since not all hockey is NHL hockey, we will also take a look at the real play-time play of Olympic, college and recreational hockey.

How long is an NHL game in real time? 

An NHL game — and this would also apply to other professional leagues such as the AHL, ECHL, and European leagues — is 60 minutes of regulation playing time. 

The game is divided into three twenty-minute periods. If the game is tied at the end of regulation time the teams will play an additional 5 minutes of overtime, and if they are still tied it will be followed by a shootout.

In real time, this whole game does not take just 60 minutes; rather, it takes 2.5 to 3 hours.

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There are a number of things that increase the time of the game, such as stoppages in play due to rule infractions, mandated tv timeouts (when the commercials are shown and there are two of these per period), and intermissions.

As well, sometimes a game will be tied at the end of regulation, and extra time in the form of overtime and the shootout will be added. 

This all adds up to a game ending 2.5 to 3 hours after it is started. 

Here is a chart that shows the real-time flow of a hockey game at the professional level (with a start time of 7pm):

7:00 pmNational Anthem
7:05 Puck Drop for Start of First Period
7:45First Intermission
8:00 Puck Drop for Start of Second Period
8:40Second Intermission
8:55Puck Drop for Start of Third Period
9:35 End of Game

Pro Tip: If you are going to a live game go 30 minutes early and watch the players warmup for the game. The arena ushers will allow you to go and stand behind the glass even if you do not have a ticket there. Here is a an article on how great (and fun) the NHL warmup is!

Let’s look at some of these aspects of the game that add to the real playing time of hockey. 

What are the average period length in games?

An average period length will run 40 minutes long. This length of time is fairly consistent between the 1st, 2nd and 3rd period. 

A hockey game is not like basketball or football where the last quarter takes a lot of time to play due to timeouts. NHL teams only have one 30 second time per game so the game is not slowed down by them. 

How long are hockey intermissions? 

Hockey intermissions are 17 minutes long. This happens twice during a regular game. Once between the 1st and 2nd period and another time during the 2nd and 3rd period. 

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This time is taken for the ice to be cleaned by the zamboni (pictured above) and repaired by the in-house maintenance crew.

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LA Kings fans playing a Sumo Wrestling Contest during the intermission

The length of the intermission also gives time for in-game entertainment such as contests among fans on the ice or local youth hockey teams playing for 3-5 minutes.

In the playoffs, the overtime periods are 20 minutes; unlike the regular season, where the overtime period is just 5 minutes. Therefore, there is a full intermission between the 3rd period and the 1st overtime period in the playoffs. However, this intermission is only 15 minutes long. 

The extra 2 minutes during the regular intermissions is usually designed to help with in-house entertainment between periods. 

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Rangers thanking the fans after a win

How long are overtime periods? 

When a game ends in a tie and goes to overtime in the regular season, there is no intermission. The play resumes after a two minute stoppage in time, then 3-on-3 overtime will begin for a 5-minute overtime period. If someone scores within that 5 minutes, the game ends automatically.

If nobody has scored at the end of the 5 minute overtime period, there is a shootout. This takes typically about 5 minutes in real-time.

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Length of a game in the NHL Playoffs

A game that ends in regulation in the playoffs runs approximately the same amount of time as a game in the regular season.

However, in the playoffs, a game cannot end with a shootout to decide the winner. The game just keeps on have 20-minute periods (with full, 15 minute intermissions) until someone finally scores. 

Most NHL overtime games end within the first, 20-minute overtime period. However, a playoff game can easily move into the 4 to 5 hour mark in real time if there are multiple overtime periods played.

How long are college hockey games? 

College games or major junior hockey games in Canada are roughly the same length as an NHL game at 2.5 hours. They tend to be on the shorter end because there is not as much production going into the game from a tv or in-house standpoint as the professional leagues. 

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How long is a recreational or kid’s hockey game?

At the recreational level – this goes for youth playing the game or adult leagues – the 60 minutes of hockey is played at runtime. 

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Runtime means that they do not stop the clock when there is a whistle, also known as stop time as seen in the NHL. The clock runs the whole time until it stops at the end of the period. This means that the game actually takes 60 minutes to play with a few more minutes added on for the quick stoppage between periods and the warmups. 

A recreational game will usually last for about 1 hour 15 minutes from the start of the warmup until the teams leave the ice at the end of the game.

Let me tell you, all the players are trying to get the game started again quickly when there is a stoppage on the ice. Nobody wants the precious time to be running away while you are not playing and waiting for the puck to drop. 

Some leagues will have stoppage time in the last few minutes of the game so a team in the lead cannot waste time by causing a lot of stoppages. 

In higher-end minor hockey leagues, the games do have stoppage time, and will have an intermission between the 2nd and 3rd periods for the ice to be cleaned. These games typically take about 2 hours to play. These games would involve highly skilled 15 to 18 year olds who have a chance to get drafted into college or a junior hockey league. 

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Welcome to Hockey Answered: a resource for anyone curious to learn & understand more about the great game of hockey.

I am a lifelong fan who grew up in a major market (Calgary), and I have played, coached, and watched a lot of hockey!

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