There are a lot of factors that go into the length of a hockey game.
A regular-season NHL game has three 20-minute periods and two 15 and ½-minute intermissions (17 minutes if nationally televised). This means that a game should be 90 minutes long. However, an NHL game takes a lot longer.
Although it is a fast-paced game, there are a few breaks. It is very taxing on the players, and these breaks give them a little time to recuperate. The breaks also offer opportunities to run commercials and fix the ice. Hockey is very entertaining, and the almost non-stop action thrills the fans.
Hockey Game Lengths by League
Here are game lengths for various hockey games.
National Hockey League Games
The average regular season NHL hockey game is between 2 and ½ to 3 hours.
Games consist of three 20-minute periods with two approximately 15-minute intermissions. The time varies due to many factors, including resurfacing and repairing the ice, injuries, and penalties.
As of 2015, in the regular season, Overtime is handled with a 5-minute period of 3-on-3 hockey. This period is sudden death, the first team that scores win the game. Once the 5-minute period has been played, the game goes to a shootout.
In the shootout, three players from each team start at center ice and skate toward the goalie. After each player has had a chance to shoot, the team with the most goals wins. If the game is still tied, play continues round by round. The first team to score, and the other team does not win the game.
In the playoffs, there is no shootout; if the game is tied after regulation, a new 20-minute period is added. This is played 5-on-5 and is sudden death. The first team to score wins. If neither team scores in the first extra period, 20-minute periods are added until there is a winner.
Minor League Hockey Games Length
There are a number of Minor Hockey Leagues in the United States and Canada. Leagues include the American Hockey League, the East Coast Hockey League, Canadian Hockey League, the Federal Prospects Hockey League, the Ligue Nord-Américaine, and the Southern Professional League.
These leagues follow the rules of the NHL. Many of the teams are affiliated with NHL teams.
American Hockey League Games Length
The average American Hockey League game is the same as the NHL, between 2 and ½ to 3 hours. Since there are normally no televised commercials, the games tend to be on the shorter end.
The American Hockey League uses the same rules for overtime as the NHL.
NCAA Games Length
The average NCAA hockey game is 2 and ½ hours. These games tend to be shorter, with no television commercials and in-house entertainment.
The NCAA uses the same rules for overtime as the NHL.
CHL Major Junior Games Length
The Canadian Hockey League Major Junior League is an NCAA-level league in Canada. Players may receive living expenses, and some have signed major league contracts. Because of these reasons, the Major Junior League is considered professional by NCAA standards.
The average Major Junior League game runs for 2 and ½ hours.
The CHL Major Junior League uses the same rules for overtime as the NHL.
High School Hockey Games Length
The average length of a High School hockey game is 1 hour and 15 minutes to 2 hours.
Depending on state rules, the games are played in three periods 15 to 17 minutes long. There are two intermissions that are 12 to 15 minutes long.
After a 3-minute rest period, high school players play 5-minute sudden-death overtime. High School leagues use the same rules for overtime as the NHL.
Recreational Leagues Game Lengths
Most recreational leagues use runtime for their games. This means that the clock never stops. It runs continuously regardless of what has transpired on the ice. Recreational games typically last for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Overtime is handled differently by different leagues. Typically, there is an overtime period followed by a shootout. Teams can use just an overtime period or just a shootout. Additionally, games may be allowed to end in a tie.
Mite and Mini-Mite Games Lengths
Mite and Mini-Mite leagues are for kids aged 8 and under (as young as 6).
The average length of Mite and Mini-Mite games is 40 to 60 minutes.
Mites play their games on half-ice. A rink that is half the size of a standard hockey rink. They play three 12-minute periods with short breaks in between.
Squirt Games Length
Squirt leagues are for kids 9 to 10 years of age.
The average length of Squirt games is 40 to 60 minutes.
Pee Wee Games Length
Pee Wee leagues are for 11- to 12-year-olds.
The average length of Pee Wee games is 45 to 65 minutes.
Bantam Games Length
Bantam leagues are for kids aged 13 to 14.
The average length of Bantam games is 48 to 68 minutes.
Midget Minor 15U
Midget Minor 15U teams are for 15-year-olds.
The average length of Midget Minor 15U games is 51 to 71 minutes.
Midget Minor 16U
Midget Minor 16U teams are for 15- to 16-year-olds.
The average length of Midget Minor 16U games is 51 to 71 minutes.
Midget Minor 18U
Midget Minor 18U teams are for 15-to-18-year-olds.
The average length of Midget Minor 18 U games is 51 to 71 minutes.
Hockey Game Length in the Playoffs
A playoff game will run longer than a regular-season NHL game. To start, there are no shootouts in the playoffs. This means if the score is tied, a 20-minute period is added. If the score is still tied at the end of 20 minutes, another overtime period is added.
This continues until one team is the winner. The longest playoff game in NHL history was in 1936. The Detroit Red Wings played the Montreal Maroons for 176 minutes and 3 seconds. There were six added overtime periods.
Factors That Can Affect Hockey Game Length
Here are some factors that affect a hockey game’s length.
The Puck is Out of Play
Hockey is a non-stop sport, but a few things will stop the game. A puck careening off a stick and flying into the crowd is one. Either off a player’s stick or a goalie blocking a shot can cause this. There are things about the puck leaving the ice that can slow the game down even more.
If a person is struck and injured, the game stops until that fan is attended to. It also takes a while to get a new puck, bring it on the ice, and set up for a face-off. During all of this, the clock isn’t running, and the game is getting longer.
Injuries to Fans or Players
As mentioned above, a fan could be struck by an errant puck. Or a fan may be pushed or fall. Both instances will require time while the injured person is treated.
Players are far more likely to be injured. There is a lot of fighting in hockey, which can cause injuries. In addition, hockey skates are sharp, and just falling or tripping on a blade can cut deeply. Being body checked into the boards or ice is bound to injure someone.
Any time there is an injury on or off the ice, the game clock stops, and the game is lengthened.
All major sports rely on ads to make money. Hockey is a little different than football, baseball, and basketball. Hockey has constant action and few natural breaks. The natural breaks are used to cut to commercials. Even though ads are shown during the intermissions, additional ads must be played during the game. These pauses for ads add time to the game.
Intermissions and Ice Surface Repair
If a game is not nationally televised, a hockey intermission is 15 minutes and 30 seconds long. If it is a nationally televised game, the intermission is 17 minutes long. During this time, the players recovered in the locker rooms, and the ice resurfaced. A Zamboni is used to resurface the ice.
The Zamboni was invented in 1949 by Frank Zamboni. Zamboni was an engineer in the city of Paramount, California. Zamboni owned a business that made ice. He built an ice rink for the city but was frustrated by the time it took to maintain the ice.
Zamboni decided to build a self-contained machine to maintain the ice. His new machine, named after himself, shaved the ice, laid down a thin film of water, and then squeegeed it off. His invention meant that ice could be resurfaced during a hockey game.
Sometimes there is damage to the ice that needs repair immediately. It could be caused by a fall, skates scratching the ice, or the goal coming loose. In any of these cases, the game is stopped, and repairs are performed.
Fights and Penalties
There are Hockey fans who come to the game just for the fights. In the 1980s, fans were guaranteed to see a fight during a game. Statistics show that in the 80s, there was at least one fight per game. To reduce the frequency, the NHL instituted a two-minute add-on penalty for the player who started the fight.
This was effective. By the 2018-2019 season, only 17% of NHL games had fights. If a fight occurs, the game clock stops and does not resume until all players are off the ice. The more fights, the longer the game.
The game clock stops when a penalty happens too. The referees confer to determine what the infraction was and who will be penalized. This process can take a fair amount of time. The longer it takes the referees to resolve the issue, the longer the game is stopped.
Overtime in Hockey
In the NHL, if a hockey game ends in a tie, players are given a 15-minute break period. Then, a 5-minute overtime period begins. Both teams try to score, and if one team outscores the other, that team wins. But, if after 5 minutes, the game is still tied, it goes to a shootout.
In a shootout, the coaches select three players that will take shots at the goalie. The players line up at center ice and skate in to shoot on the goalie. After each team has had three shots on goal, the team with the most goals wins.
If the game is still tied after the first shootout round, another round will start with sudden death. The first team to score wins the game. These rules of overtime are for regular-season games only.
In the playoffs, shootouts are not used. Overtime periods are added to the game until a winner is determined.
Eight Crazy Hockey Fan Promotions
Sometimes the NHL and the Minor League Teams like to try out innovative ideas that will fill the stands. Sometimes they may add to a game length. Here is a list of eight kooky and charming hockey promotions.
How do You Spell That?
In an attempt to encourage the improvement of overall spelling skills. The Minnesota Wild created a Spelling Bee Night. The first 1,000 fans that could match a spelling challenge would win a one-year gym membership. The challenge? Spell the names of at least three Foreign-born hockey players correctly.
Can I Bring Him?
The San Antonio Rampage knows that a dog is a man’s best friend. So, why not bring your dog to the hockey game? For just $5.00, fans could buy a ticket to bring their furry buddy to the game. The Rampage called the promotion Pucks and Paws Night.
Don’t Flip Your Wig!
The Philadelphia Flyers created Scott Hartnell Wig Night to celebrate Hartnell’s curly red locks. All kids attending and the first 5,000 fans received a red Scott Hartnell wig. The game was against the Florida Panthers, who must have been disturbed to see thousands of Scott Hartnell’s staring back at them.
Santa, is that You?
Fans were admitted to a New York Islanders game for free if they dressed like Santa. A surprising number of Santa’s showed up for the game against the New York Rangers. After entering the arena, dozens of Santas took off their costumes. Underneath were Rangers jerseys. The Islanders fans were seriously miffed by the sneaky Santa.
Hats Off to You
In 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks decided it would be a clever idea to have a hockey helmet promotion. Many lucky fans were given a helmet as they entered the game. During the game, Jonathan Toews scored a hat trick, and you guessed it. All the fans who received helmets tossed them onto the ice. A long delay ensued while the mess was cleaned up.
When in Doubt, Throw It on the Ice
The Johnstown Tomahawks had an idea for a promotion in 2015. The promotion would provide needy families with underwear. Thoughts of used underwear being tossed willy-nilly onto the ice were disturbing. The Tomahawks explained that fans were supposed to throw new, unused underwear. The promotion was to benefit the Children’s Tumor Foundation.
I am an Ape Man
A team affiliated with the Edmonton Oilers, the Bakersfield Condors had a history of wacky events. This time, the promotion was the Hairiest Back Night. In a strange attempt to get fans excited about the team, they decided to highlight hairy backs.
Sudden Death, No Really
The Philadelphia Flyers don’t stop at wigs; they have other promotions up their sleeves. A promotion to give an Automated External Defibrillator to a deserving school sounded nice. But the devil is in the details. The Flyers and the Calgary Flames agreed to a 3-on-3 sudden-death overtime match.
The only problem was the Flyers lost. That means the Flames scored first in sudden death. The school doesn’t get the defibrillator, and the marketing department gets fired.
Final Thoughts on How Long Is a Hockey Game?
Because of all the action, it seems like hockey games are shorter. In reality, hockey games are just as long as other professional sports. There really aren’t any plans to shorten professional hockey games. Maybe fans don’t complain because of all the action.
All NHL games used to be longer when more fighting occurred. The increased fighting penalties have done their job. Now, if there could just be a penalty for excessive advertisements.
By Tim Moodie
Tim Moodie is a writer, inventor, and creative director based in Minneapolis, MN.
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