How Many Periods are in a Hockey Game? How Long is Each?

Imagine constantly playing without a break or watching a continuous game where the players are so tired that they want the game to end! What thrill would such a game provide? Tiredness and tiring faces would not be any pleasure.

So, how many periods in hockey? An ice hockey game comprises three periods of 20 minutes each with two intermissions of 15 minutes in between each period. During the regular season and playoffs, if a game is tied at the end of the third period, it will be decided by either a 5 minute or 20 minute overtime. If a game is still tied in overtime, it will be followed by a shootout.

Let’s take a breakdown in order to understand why hockey has periods rather than halves and quarters (with a few exceptions), and how real-time games play.

Were NHL Hockey Games Always Three Periods Long?

The key reason behind the three-game periods is the ice quality. NHL officials noticed that ice surfaces get down when playing 30 minutes long. Snow building and ice chips are often there, affecting the puck’s smooth flow and players’ pace also slows down.

Therefore, they decided to divide the NHL’s two 30 minutes periods into three 20 minutes periods. It is beneficial for the ice to resurface with Zamboni after every 20 minutes instead of 30 minutes.

Ice Hockey Periods

The poor quality of snow, having ice chips and little snow mounts, makes the game slow as the puck’s smooth travel turns bouncy because of friction. Also, players face difficulty in skating as their overall game speed becomes slow, and they have high chances of injuries. At a minimum, the ice chips can make player trip and fall on the ice unexpectedly. Further, a player’s skate can get trapped in the chips giving them serious injuries like sprains, ACLs / MCLs, etc.

Note that each period lasts for 20 minutes, but in actuality, the players playing time on the ice goes about 40 or 45 minutes, including all stoppages, penalties, timeouts, goals, injuries, and more.

So, NHL brought the 15 minutes intermission between each period to resurface the ice (the intermission and ice resurfacing part is explained below).

Other than the ice resurfacing, it has many different reasons, such as:

  • Players break and team plan – Players and coach discuss and plan further game strategies in a break.
  • Audience time (for food and drinks) – In this short free time, spectators can go get some food and drinks for energy to enjoy the rest of the match.
  • Marketing – Fans who watch matches on their televisions at home. The NHL uses this break for advertising and marketing their sponsors in addition to the TV Timeouts time.

So, now you get why hockey has three periods, not two halves.

You may like to read about: What Time Do NHL Warmups Start?

Does Hockey Ever Have Two Halves Or Four Quarters?

Other than amateur leagues, there is another example of a hockey game where you can see two halves instead of three periods – the All-Star NHL game. The NHL-level All-Star game is different from other NHL regular games. The All-Star game is played in three vs three formats rather than in five vs five formats and is played in 40 minutes, not in 60 minutes. This means that they only have two periods, not three.

Does Hockey Ever Have Two Halves Or Four Quarters

This is all done to create a game-scoring atmosphere for the players where they can score many goals. Whether good or bad, NHL makes all its efforts to get maximum scores in games in either way possible and not just make a regular showcase game.

Additional Periods: Overtime

If a regular season game is tied upon regulation end, then there will be additional 5 minutes of overtime added to the game.

Additional Periods Overtime

Between the third period and the 5 minutes additional, there will be no gap given of the intermission to clear ice, and the game will resume within 5 minutes.

When none of the team scores in overtime, and the game is still tied, the play will be followed by a shootout.

When the play moves to the shootout, the Zambonis will quickly move onto the ice and resurface it. There are two Zambonis for each arena. Both will swiftly lap the ice surface down the center to smooth the shooting areas for players. Hence, making it easy for players to do skilled shoots with smooth skating.

In the case of playoffs, when the game is tied at the end of regulation. There will be full 15 minutes intermission between the third period and the overtime because the playoffs overtime lasts for 20 minutes.

This format will keep on unless one team scores which are called sudden death. This happens more often in the Stanley cup playoffs.

How Long Does a Period Take To Play in Real-Time?

Here is how a professional hockey game’s periods would flow:

07:00 PMNational Anthem
07:05 PMPuck Drop to start 1st Period
07:45 PMFirst Intermission
08:00 PMPuck Drop to start 2nd Period
08:40 PMSecond Intermission
08:55 PMPuck Drop to start 3rd Period
09:35 PMGame End

Check Out: The Ultimate Guide on What to Wear to a Hockey Game?

NHL Games with the Most Overtime Periods

Here are the NHL games with the most overtime periods played in history.

DateTeamsScoreOvertime LengthTotal Periods
April 3, 1933Toronto vs Boston1-0104 minutes 46 seconds9
March 24, 1936Detroit vs Montreal Maroon1-0116 minutes 30 seconds9
May 4, 2000Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh2-192 minutes 1 second8
April 24, 2003Anaheim vs Dallas4-380 minutes 48 seconds8
April 24, 1996Pittsburgh vs Washington3-279 minutes 15 seconds7
April 11, 2007Vancouver vs Dallas5-478 minutes 6 seconds7
March 23, 1943Toronto vs Detroit3-270 minutes 18 seconds7
May 4, 2008Dallas vs San Jose2-169 minutes 3 seconds7
April 18, 1937New York Islanders vs Washington3-268 minutes 47 seconds7
March 28, 1930Montreal Canadians vs New York Rangers2-168 minutes 52 seconds7
NHL Games with the Most Overtime Periods

Frequently Asked Question

How Many Quarters Does a Hockey Game Have?

None. Professional hockey games have three periods, not four quarters.
Field hockey has four quarters in a game. Each of the four quarters is 15 minutes; after each quarter, the players get a 2-minute break. Ice hockey is professionally played in periods of 20 minutes, not in quarters, with rules different from field hockey.

Do all Hockey Games are Divided into Three Periods?

Not all; some youth hockey games are shorter than professional games. Sometimes amateur and junior hockey league game times vary provisional to how long their ice rink is allowed to use. Moreover, their game clock click on run time means it will not stop in intermissions. Plus, there may be more games scheduled following that day. That’s why they adjusted the clock to fit in.

Does Ice get cleaned during Periods in Recreational Hockey?

Well, it sometimes depends on the level. The game is divided into three periods; each period is usually played run time, showing that the clock will keep clicking.
Thus, the maximum time for play is 60 minutes, and it is okay with the nature of players as they are not pro-like rash players on the ice.
However, the high-end leagues have 20 minutes breaks per period, just like the NHL. But the ice will only get cleaned between the 2nd and 3rd-period gap as these buildings are calmer than to NHL, so the ice has more strength to remain in good shape.

How many sports have Three Periods?

Ice hockey is the only sport that has three periods. No other sport has three periods.
Each period lasts 20 minutes, and the clock is tick-tick while the players play the puck. Between each period, there is an intermission of 15 minutes, one between the 1st and 2nd periods and the second between the 2nd and 3rd periods.
Suppose the game gets tied at the end of the last period. Then the game will go into the 5 minutes overtime. If overtime still gets hitched, the game will then decide by the shootout.


This is all about the hockey periods. All the queries about the two and three periods, two halves and four quarters, the intermission between periods, and the regular season and playoffs intermission pattern are clear to you. And hopefully, you get the actual game structure.

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