How long is an ice hockey game? (NHL, college, and recreation)

When you are going to watch a hockey game how much time should expect to be there? As with any sport it takes longer in real time then the official number of minutes they play.

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 this playing time works out to be 2.5 to 3 hours when you include all of the stops, intermission, and possible overtime. 

Embed from Getty Images

Let’s take a look at how long a hockey game actually takes to play at the professional, college, and recreational levels. 

How long is an NHL hockey game in real time? 

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

This is divided into 3 periods of 20 minutes each. If the game is tied at the end of regulation the teams will play an additional 5 minutes of overtime, and if they are still tied it will be followed by a shootout. (overtime rules link)

In real time, this whole game does not take just 60 minutes but, instead, 2.5 to 3 hours.

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 started. 

Here is a chart that shows the real-time flow of a hockey game at the professional level:

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

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

How long are the intermissions between periods? 

An NHL intermission is 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. 

This time is taken for the ice to be cleaned and repaired as well as any in-house entertainment.

In the playoffs, the overtime periods are 20 minutes unlike the regualar 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. 

How long between regulation and overtime? 

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 and 3-on-3 overtime will then begin. 

Embed from Getty Images

Length of a game in the NHL Playoffs

In the playoffs, there is no shootout to decide a game if it is still tied at the end of an overtime period. The game just keeps on have 20 minutes periods until someone finally scores. 

Most NHL overtime games end in regulation, however an overtime playoff game can easily move into the 4 to 5 hour mark in real time if there are extra periods added.

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. 

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

At the recreational level – this goes for kids 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. 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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