How many timeouts do you get in hockey?

When you watch sports like baseball, basketball, and football, the coaches use a lot of timeouts. However, when you watch hockey, the timeout is only used rarely. How many timeouts does a team get in hockey and when do they use them?

How many timeouts do you get in hockey? Every team is allowed to take one timeout PER GAME, allowing for the normal course of the game to be stopped for 30 seconds. Any player is allowed to call a timeout after a normal stoppage in play, but not while the play is going on.

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The NHL only gives one timeout per team per game. Compared to the other major sports in North America, timeouts are not as integrated within the sport. There is strategy involved in calling timeouts within hockey (as I will discuss below), however it is not as influential on a game-to-game basis.


When can a hockey team call a timeout?

Any member of the team is allowed to call a timeout at the stoppage of play. Similar to basketball, any player can call the timeout; but, unlike in basketball (when a timeout can be called during the play as a strategic move), a timeout in hockey is not allowed to be called while play is going on.

When a timeout has been called, all the players including the goalie are allowed to come to the players bench for rest and to talk strategy.


When is a hockey team NOT permitted to call a timeout?

  • After a face-off violation. This would simply wreck the flow of the game.
  • After the other team has called a time out during a stoppage of play. Therefore, two timeouts (both of the allowable timeouts in the whole game) cannot be called during one stoppage of play.
  • After the referee has delivered instructions to the player and goalie prior to a penalty shot attempt. Therefore, you are not allowed to ‘ice’ the penalty shooter as teams in football do with the kicker before he attempts a field goal.
  • After a commercial timeout (a designated break for television commercials). Only one timeout per normal stoppage of play.

Note: A player or a goaltender is not allowed to use pucks to ‘warm-up’ or practice while the team has called a timeout. This stops the practice of a team switching goalies in the course of a game, due to poor play or injury, and calling a timeout simply to warm-up the new goaltender coming in by taking warm-up shots on him.


When would a team call a timeout during the game?

Since a team only has one timeout, NHL coaches are usually quite hesitant to use it because they want to make sure they are saving it for a potentially crucial situation. Most coaches are saving it in case they need it for the last minute or two of the game to either help protect their lead or to score a last minute goal to tie it up.

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Here are some of the scenarios which will cause a coach to want to use the timeout:

  • After an icing where the defensive team is extremely exhausted. Often in a game a team that is under pressure and tired will ice the puck causing a faceoff in their own zone. The opposing team will take this opportunity to put out their top scorers against an extremely tired defensive group. A coach can choose to use the timeout at this point to give his defensive players a rest so they are not outmatched. This would happen if a team was up 2-1 in the 3rd period and they are trying to protect the lead.
  • After a large swing in momentum, from one team to the other.  Hockey is a game of momentum that can swing quite suddenly from one team to the other. For instance, if a team has built a 2-0 lead and another team scores two quick goals to tie up the game, many coaches will be known to call a timeout to help calm their team down and to help ‘stop’ some of the momentum going to the opposing team. Or, at the beginning of the game, a team may score 2 or 3 quick goals, and a coach will call a timeout to try and help the team reset before the game gets too out-of-hand with no chance at being able to comeback.
  • Before a penalty shot, to give the player a rest if he is tired. I have only seen/heard of this being done a few times; but, if a player is awarded a penalty shot and is tired from a preceding long shift, a coach may call a timeout to give this player a rest before he has to take the shot. It makes sense, as a player scores about 33% of penalty shots (which is significant) and the coach wants to make sure they are able to perform to their best on the attempt.
  • At the end of the game, when a team is trying to score a goal to tie up the game or protect a lead.  This is by far the most common time a team will use a timeout. In fact, this is why a team does not use a timeout in other scenarios more often because they are saving it for this scenario. A coach wants to be able to save a timeout for this situation because they need to rest their players either to score a goal or defend a goal within the last few minutes of a game or to go over strategy to either score or prevent a goal.
  • To challenge a potential goaltender interference call when a goal has been scored. If a team wants to challenge a goal that they think was only successful because of goaltender interference, the team needs to use their timeout to do so. If they challenge the call, and the goal is deemed to have counted by the officials, they team will lose their timeout. (On the contrary, if the officials determine that there WAS goalie interference, then the goal is no good, the challenge was valid, and the challenging team can still use their timeout at another point in the game.) This is done so that the coaches will not challenge every goal just because they can — it would slow down the overall game too much.
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What are TV timeouts?

How does a hockey television telecast make money? With commercials and advertising, of course!

So, it comes as no surprise that hockey broadcasts have been given time to show commercials. These breaks are called TV (commercial) timeouts.

TV timeouts are set at 2 minutes long and occur three times per period: after the 6, 10 and 14 minute points of the period. However, they will not be permitted if there is a power play, if a goal has just been scored, or if there is a stoppage for icing.  You may see a commercial after these have happened, but it will be a shorter 15 or 30 second commercial and not the 2 minute TV timeout version.


Related Questions:

Are there any differences with timeouts in International Hockey?

Yes, there are a few differences between the NHL and International Hockey governed under the IIHF rules. Each team is still only given one 30 second timeout per game, but each team could use the timeout during the same stoppage of play. As well, there are no tv timeouts in IIHF competition. This is one of the reasons why a game in the Olympics takes 2 hours real-time to play instead of the 2.5 hours in the NHL — less commercials!

Doesn’t a team lose a timeout for an offside challenge that they lose?

There used to be a rule where a team could lose a timeout if they challenged a goal based on an offside review challenge and lost. However, at the start of the 2017 season the NHL switched this so that a team would receive a two minute minor penalty instead of losing their timeout.

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