How Many Periods in an NHL Ice Hockey Game?

An NHL ice hockey game is made up of three periods, which are each 20 minutes long. There will be an approximately 15 minute intermission between the first and second periods, and between the second and third periods, to allow for the ice to be cleaned.

Ice hockey is a sport unlike any other in terms of its rules and traditions. There are fights, line changes being made during active play, and so much more.

Another thing that might seem a little strange for fans of other sports is the format of a game itself. Instead of using two halves or four quarters like other major sports, ice hockey has periods.

But how many periods are there? This guide is going to go over that, as well as take a look at how long periods are, and why hockey uses periods in the first place.

Key Takeaways

  • There are three periods in an ice hockey game, with a short intermission between each period. If the game is tied at the end of these three periods, an overtime period will also be played to help decide a winner.
  • Each period is 20 minutes long, with intermissions being around 15 minutes or so. However, because of stoppages in play, the actual time a period takes may be closer to 30 or 40 minutes depending on what happens on the ice.
  • There hasn’t always been three periods in professional hockey games, as the rules actually called for two 30 minute halves before the 1910 season.

How Many Periods Are There in an Ice Hockey Game?

In the NHL, a game is made up of three periods. The team with the most goals scored at the end of the third period will be declared the winner. However, if a game is tied at the end of the third period, the game will go to overtime to decide a winner.

In the regular season, there is a single overtime period and if the game is still tied, it will go to a shootout. But in the playoffs, there will be as many overtime periods as necessary until a team scores a goal and wins.

In between each period there is also a short intermission. In this intermission, workers will fix up and clean the ice. It is also when many of the fans will get up out of their seats to stretch, walk around the arena, or grab some snacks and beverages.

In some cases, there will also be some on-ice entertainment such as games or performances to keep fans entertained until the game starts back up.

Outside the NHL, different leagues may have different rules in regards to the format of their ice hockey games. For example, some leagues may have their games split up into two halves as opposed to three periods, may have shorter periods, or may not use stop time.

How Long Are Ice Hockey Periods?

In the NHL, periods are 20 minutes long. However, overtime periods can be a little different in some cases. In the regular season, overtime periods are much shorter at only 5 minutes before going to a shootout if no team scores.

However, in the playoffs, overtime periods once again return to the standard 20 minutes. When it comes to the intermissions, each one will generally be around 15 minutes or so.

Also, keep in mind that these numbers are stop time. There are various stoppages in play during a period that lead to an actual period being a little longer than 20 minutes.

This includes penalties, injuries, goals, the puck going out of play, time outs and more. Accounting for these stoppages, each period will generally take around 30 to 40 minutes of real time.

The History of Periods in Ice Hockey

While we are all used to watching an NHL game with three 20 minute periods, this wasn’t always how the games worked. In fact, prior to the 1910 season, ice hockey leagues like the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association (ECAHA) played two 30 minute halves.

But in 1910, the NHA (National Hockey Association) made a rule change that switched this to three 20 minute periods. The reason that the league changed to three 20 minute periods instead of two 30 minute halves has to do with the condition of the ice.

The more you play on an ice surface, the worse it gets for players. It gets grooves, ice chips, and buildups of snow. These can slow down the game as the puck cannot glide nicely on the ice.

Not only that, but poor ice conditions can also lead to injury as players can trip or hurt themselves on these grooves and ice chips. Getting a bit of extra rest as players during an intermission is also great.

Having another intermission gave ice crews another opportunity to ensure the ice was in good shape and resurface it. Also with only 20 minutes of game time in between resurfacing instead of 30, there would be less time for the ice to get in really bad shape.

Once the NHL officially came into existence in 1917, the league adopted the same three 20 minute period format, and it has remained the same more than a century later.

Final Thoughts

Each game of NHL hockey is split into three 20-minute periods, with short intermissions between each one to clean off the ice. I hope this article helped you learn everything you need to know about periods in hockey, and how they have changed over the years.

Do you enjoy the three 20 minute periods that the NHL uses now, or do you prefer a format with two 30 minute halves? Let me know in a comment!

About Kale
Being from Canada, hockey is essentially a way of life. I instantly fell in love with the game since I was being put on skates. From playing as a child (and the occasional street hockey game with friends today) to being a fan for over 20 years, I’m here to share my knowledge and passion for hockey. Email:

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