Hockey unfolds through a series of high-intensity periods consisting of timed game play followed by breaks for resurfacing the ice. The multifaceted period structure underpins hockey’s unique game flow and suspense. This in-depth guide examines hockey periods across youth, amateur, college, and professional levels. We’ll analyze regulation period length, overtime formats, impact on strategy, Zamboni resurfacing, and more. Whether you are a lifelong puckhead or casual fan, understanding hockey’sPeriodscrafts fuller appreciation of this fast-paced sport on ice.
Regulation Periods in the NHL
The National Hockey League follows standard regulation:
- NHL games contain 3 periods of 20 minutes of actual game time each.
- There are 17 minutes between periods for resurfacing ice, rest, analysis, and TV commercial breaks.
- The 3 period regulation structure has been constant throughout NHL history.
- Teams switch which goal they defend for the 2nd period to negate any ice surface factors.
- The 3 x 20 minute period format balances game length, time for adjustments, and ice maintenance.
This combination of intense 20-minute action and recuperation shapes hockey’s underlying rhythm.
Regulation Time vs. Actual Elapsed Time
- The 20 minutes represents game clock time with stoppages.
- Similar to other timed sports, actual elapsed time ends up longer due to whistle stoppages.
- On average, actual time for a regulation NHL period amounts to 27-32 minutes.
- Stoppages for offsides, icing, penalties, goals, injuries and commercial breaks expand elapsed time.
- Teams and fans measure game length by pure regulation game clock minutes.
Regulation time governs hockey pace and competition despite expansive real-world duration.
Period Analysis in Hockey
The multiperiod structure impacts in-game strategy:
- Coaches can adapt tactics between periods based on feel for flow and mismatches.
- Top teams avoid letdowns or complacency entering subsequent periods after leading earlier.
- Teams aim to “win” each period individually on scoreboard and momentum.
- No insurmountable lead exists with clean slates each period. Comebacks always possible.
- Psychology factors like confidence, focus, and endurance fluctuate through peaks and valleys during the distinct periods.
Leveraging intermission adjustments and controlling energy through multiple periods factors into managing games effectively.
Length of Intermissions Between Periods
- NHL regular season intermissions last 17 minutes.
- Playoff intermissions extend to 18 minutes for additional television advertising.
- Youth and amateur hockey typically use 15-minute intermissions.
- Intermission timing balances adequate ice resurfacing, rest, coaching, and television commercials. Too long saps game intensity.
- Teams use the breaks to mentally refresh but avoid losing edge or letting muscles cool completely.
The extended interludes test mental stamina across multiple Skate Sharpening periods rather than continuous action.
Origin of 3 Twenty Minutes Periods
While the exact reasoning behind 20 minutes is unknown, several plausible theories exist:
- Early indoor hockey games in the late 19th and early 20th century settled on 20 minutes organically through trial and error.
- 20 minutes balances sufficient game length with the rigor and speed required. Shorter periods sap flow while longer brings excessive fatigue.
- The 20-minute mark met ice rink operational constraints regarding resurfacing logistics.
- Three periods with intermissions built additional dramatic crescendos and renewed suspense compared to two halves.
The sport likely organically gravitated toward three 20-minute regulation periods as optimal through experience.
Periods in Major International Hockey
The three 20-minute period regulation standard holds across major worldwide leagues and tournaments:
- Olympic hockey follows the 3 x 20 format. Women’s Olympic hockey uses the same.
- IIHF World Junior and Senior Championships also use standard NHL period length and frequency.
- KHL (Russia), SHL (Sweden), Liiga (Finland), NLA (Switzerland) all follow established NHL period regulations.
- Since expansion in the 1990s, the NHL’s period model diffused as an international standard.
The worldwide uniformity produces continuity across different leagues and levels of hockey.
Period Length in Minor Professional and Amateur Hockey
While the NHL model reigns at the top levels, minor professional and amateur leagues utilize shorter periods:
- Most minor professional leagues in North America range from 3 periods of 15-17 minutes.
- Top junior leagues like the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL use 17 or 18 minute periods.
- High school regulation remains similar to minors with 15-17 minute periods.
- Youth and recreational hockey commonly uses 13-15 minute periods to manage fatigue over multiple games in tournaments and showcases.
Shorter periods allow energy preservation vital to high performance over consecutive games when teams lack NHL-caliber fitness.
Resurfacing the Ice Between Periods
A key function of period breaks involves resurfacing the ice:
- Specialized Zamboni machines shave the ice surface and redistribute heated water to provide smooth, glossy ice.
- Poor ice conditions with chips, snow buildup, and divots drastically reduces play quality.
- Resurfacing requires 10-15 minutes minimum for a thorough refreshing.
- Ice crews expertly operate arena-sized Zambonis that make perfect ice their craft.
Diligently resurfacing between periods creates the slick canvas essential for artistic hockey.
Last Minute of Regulation in Hockey
The final minute of regulation sees furious activity with the clock ticking:
- The last minute is continuous action with no stoppages so that time runs out organically.
- Teams press aggressively seeking to break ties or add insurance tallies.
- Skaters expend maximum effort sprinting for pucks to generate chances.
- Players block shots courageously and battle fiercely for possession.
- Timeouts before icing and player exhaustion add intrigue.
The 60th minute provides heart-stopping drama with teams giving full effort chasing or protecting leads.
Hockey Overtime Format in NHL
If regulation time expires with the score tied, overtime begins:
- NHL overtime is sudden death meaning first goal wins, with 5 minutes of 3-on-3 hockey.
- Overtime is one continuous period instead of multiple 20-minute periods.
- Each team has 3 skaters instead of 5 to create open ice and high scoring.
- If overtime ends scoreless, a shootout determines the winner.
The wide open 3-on-3 overtime provides exhilarating free-flowing action with abundant goals.
Evolution of NHL Overtime for Standings
- Through the 1999-2000 season, NHL games ending regulation tied earned each team 1 point. Overtime wins earned an extra point.
- Starting in 1999-2000, overtime wins provide 2 points in the standings. A tie after overtime now earns each team 1 point still.
- This increased urgency for teams to play for wins in overtime to maximize standings points.
- Since the rule change, 78% of overtime games result in a win rather than tie.
Rewarding extra standings points for wins caused teams to approach overtime more aggressively.
International Hockey Overtime Rules
IIHF tournaments like the Olympics implement different overtime procedures:
- IIHF uses one 20-minute sudden death 4-on-4 period instead of shorter 3-on-3.
- This format allows more strategy by using two fewer skaters instead of three.
- If still tied after overtime, proceed to shootout same as NHL.
- Eliminating ties incentivizes teams to go all out attacking in overtime.
International hockey overlime offers nuanced contrasts to the NHL model.
Why Continuous Overtime Instead of New Period?
- Playing overtime as continuous action creates nonstop intensity and minimizes rest.
- Starting fresh overtime periods would require resurfacing ice and other stoppages diluting urgency.
- The full speed back-and-forth flow results in a higher percentage of games decided in overtime.
- Excitement also rises without the natural scoreboard reset of a new period.
Continuous overtime adds relentless pressure carrying straight over from regulation.
Hockey Shootouts Breaking Ties
If teams remain tied after overtime, shootouts determine winners:
- Each team takes 3 shootout attempts one-on-one against the goalie. Players start at center ice and attempt to score.
- If still tied after 3 rounds, the shootout proceeds one round at a time until there is a winner.
- This one-on-one competition intensifies the drama and provides a definitive resolution.
- Shooters take creative dekes and highlight reel shots to beat the goalie.
Spectacular shootout skills provide appointment viewing for fans.
Arguments For and Against NHL Shootouts
Hockey purists debate using shootouts as a tiebreaker:
- Provides exciting individual skills competition for fans.
- Prevents endless overtime marathon games that exhaust players.
- Guarantees decisive result rather than unsatisfying tie.
- Individual skills challenge differs greatly from team hockey.
- Often renders first 65 minutes of team play meaningless.
- Perceived as a gimmick defying hockey tradition of playing out overtimes.
There are merits on both sides of hockey’s great shootout debate.
Periods in Youth and High School Hockey
Youth and scholastic hockey use shorter regulation:
- High school hockey commonly uses 17 minute periods. Some states mandate 15 minutes.
- Youth hockey typically ranges 10-14 minutes for mites and squirts. Bantam and U15/U18 levels increase to 15-17 minutes.
- Shorter periods accommodate lower stamina levels of amateur players.
- Period lengths expand approaching prep ages to get prospects accustomed to standard lengths.
Appropriate regulation time frames based on age and skill level promote development.
While hockey appears simply contested in thirds, strategic intricacies unfold through its multiperiod structure. Regulation establishes 20 minute intense segments punctuated by recuperative intermissions. Overtimes up the urgency while shootouts generate unequivocal outcomes. Rule variations like minor league or international demonstrate hockey’s willingness to innovate within its time-tested model. As long as frozen ice rinks provide the backdrop, hockey’s unique blend of free-flowing athletic spectacle segmented into periods will continue captivating dedicated fans around the world.
Here are some additional frequently asked questions about hockey periods:
How long is each period plus intermission breaks in an NHL game?
Regulation NHL periods are 20 minutes of game time each. Intermissions last 17 minutes between periods for ice resurfacing, rest, strategizing, and television breaks. So full NHL games last around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Why are there 3 periods in hockey instead of 2 halves?
Three period games evolved as the optimal structure, allowing for multiple intense sprints of action with resurfacing ice and adjustments between each. The three segments build intrigue and momentum shifts better than two.
What happens if an NHL playoff game is tied after overtime?
If an NHL playoff game remains tied after a single overtime period, it moves onto a shootout with groups of 3 skaters taking penalty shot-like breakaways against the opposing goalie to determine a winner.
How long are periods in amateur and youth hockey?
Youth hockey uses shorter 10-14 minute periods for beginners and 15-17 at older ages. High school plays 15-17 minutes. Minor leagues play 3 x 15-18 minutes. Periods shorten to manage fatigue across multiple games.
When was the NHL shootout introduced?
The NHL began using shootouts to break ties after overtime starting with the 2005-2006 season. Previously, NHL games simply ended as ties after overtime. Shootouts made overtime wins more meaningful.