How Many Periods in a Hockey Game: Unveiling the Game’s Structure

Hockey is a thrilling and fast-paced sport that has captured the hearts of fans worldwide. While many are familiar with the excitement of the game, there are still questions that newcomers may have, such as “How many periods in a hockey game?” This article aims to provide a comprehensive answer to this question while delving into the structure and rules of a hockey game.

Understanding the Basics


How Many Periods in a Hockey Game


A standard hockey game consists of three periods to address the primary query. Each period lasts 20 minutes of gameplay, making 60 minutes for the regulation game time. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that the game clock stops during various situations, leading to additional time spent on stoppages and breaks.

The Structure of a Hockey Game


Now that we know there are three periods in a hockey game, let’s delve deeper into the game’s structure and understand how these periods are divided.

Period Length and Breaks

First Period:


The first period begins with a face-off at centre ice and lasts 20 minutes of playtime. This initial period sets the tone for the game, with both teams vying for an early advantage. The clock stops for various reasons, such as penalties, goals, or injuries, which can extend the overall time spent in the first period.

Following the first period, there is typically a 15-minute break, during which players can regroup, and fans can grab refreshments. This intermission is integral to the game and often features entertainment or performances to keep the audience engaged.

Second Period:


Like the first period, the second period spans 20 minutes of playtime. It starts with another face-off and continues the action on the ice. Like the first period, the clock stops for various reasons, causing additional stoppage time.

After the second period concludes, there is another 15-minute intermission. This is a crucial moment for teams to strategize and make any necessary adjustments to their game plan.

Third Period:


The third period is the final 20-minute segment of the game, and it holds a special significance. This period often sees teams giving their all to secure a victory or catch up if they are trailing. The clock operates similarly, stopping for penalties, goals, and other interruptions.

If the game is tied at the end of the third period, it goes into overtime, a sudden-death format. Overtime is a thrilling experience for players and fans, as the first team to score wins the game.

Overtime and Shootouts


Overtime and Shootouts

While regulation play consists of three periods, there are circumstances in which a game can extend beyond the standard 60 minutes. This occurs when the score is tied at the end of the third period. In such cases, overtime and, if necessary, a shootout come into play.



In time, the structure of play changes significantly. Overtime periods are shorter, typically lasting five minutes each. However, they are played with fewer players as teams switch to a 3-on-3 format. The reduced player count creates more open space, often leading to fast-paced and high-scoring action.

If a team scores during overtime, they win the game immediately. The game proceeds to a shootout if the five-minute overtime ends without a goal.



A shootout is an exciting way to determine the winner when overtime fails to break the tie. Each team selects three shooters to take penalty shots against the opposing goalie. The team with the most goals in the shootout wins the game.

It’s important to note that shootout goals do not count toward a player’s official statistics, and the winning team is awarded two points in the standings. The team that loses in a shootout receives one point, which can be crucial for playoff positioning.

Regulation vs. Non-Regulation Games

Regulation vs. Non-Regulation Games


While we have discussed the standard structure of a hockey game, it’s essential to recognize that there are variations in different leagues and circumstances. Here, we explore some of the distinctions between regulation and non-regulation games.

Regulation Games:


As we’ve outlined earlier, a regulation game consists of three periods, each lasting 20 minutes, for 60 minutes. Overtime and shootouts may follow if the game remains tied after the third period.

In the National Hockey League (NHL) and many other professional leagues, games can end in ties during the regular season if neither team scores in the shootout. However, ties are less common in the modern NHL, thanks to the implementation of the shootout.

Non-Regulation Games:


Non-regulation games encompass various scenarios that deviate from the standard structure. Some of these scenarios include:


Playoff Games:


In playoff games, overtime periods can extend indefinitely until a sudden-death goal is scored. This allows for the possibility of longer games and added drama.


International Play:


International tournaments and events, such as the Olympics, may feature variations in the game structure. Some tournaments employ a “sudden death” overtime format during the preliminary rounds, while others use a “continuous overtime” system, where teams switch ends after each overtime period.


Youth and Amateur Leagues:


Youth and amateur hockey leagues may have shorter game lengths to accommodate younger players or time constraints. Game durations can vary widely in these leagues, from two 15-minute periods to three 15-minute periods or more.

Understanding the rules and regulations specific to the league or level of play you’re watching is essential to grasp the full context of a hockey game.

Influential Factors in Game Duration


While we’ve discussed the standard game structure, several factors can influence the actual duration of a hockey game. Understanding these elements can provide insights into the ebb and flow of a match.



The clock in a hockey game stops for various reasons, including penalties, goals, and injuries. These stoppages can add significant time to a game. Penalties, in particular, can lead to extended periods of play, with one team enjoying a power play advantage.

Video Reviews:


In the modern era of hockey, video review plays a significant role in ensuring the accuracy of calls and goal judgments. Referees may review goals, offside plays, and other critical moments, which can further extend the game’s duration.

Television Timeouts:


Television broadcasts of hockey games often feature scheduled commercial breaks. These timeouts allow broadcasters to show advertisements and allow players and viewers to catch their breath.

Timeouts and Challenges:


Teams can call timeouts or challenge certain plays during a game. These moments can also lead to brief stoppages as coaches strategize or referees review challenges.

Fights and Altercations:


Hockey is known for its physical nature; fights or altercations between players can sometimes break out. These incidents can result in penalties, ejections, and delays in gameplay.

Icing and Offsides:


Icing and offside calls can lead to face-offs and brief stoppages in play. These situations often occur when teams are attempting to gain a positional advantage.

Equipment Issues:


Players’ equipment, such as helmets, sticks, or gloves, can become dislodged during the game. When this happens, referees may pause the game to allow players to adjust or retrieve their equipment.

Injury Time:


Injuries to players can result in significant stoppages as medical personnel attend to the injured athlete. In cases of severe injuries, the game may be delayed for an extended period.

The accumulation of these factors can vary from game to game, leading to fluctuations in the actual time spent during each period and the overall duration of the game.



In summary, a standard hockey game consists of three periods, each lasting 20 minutes of playtime, with intermissions between them. However, it’s crucial to understand that various factors, including stoppages, overtime, and shootouts, can influence the actual duration of a hockey game. Different leagues and events may also have rules and variations on game duration, making it essential to be aware of the specific regulations.

So, the next time you watch a thrilling hockey game, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of the structure and duration of the game, and you won’t be left wondering, “How many periods in a hockey game?” You’ll know that it’s three periods, with the possibility of overtime and a shootout if necessary and that the excitement and unpredictability of hockey are part of what makes it one of the most captivating sports in the world.

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