How Long is an Average Hockey Game? (NHL, College & Recreation)

Posted on November 12, 2023 by Dan Kent
hockey game start time

Have you ever wondered how long the average hockey game is?

Whether you are going to your first hockey game or planning to sit down and watch one on television, it's nice to know the amount of time you'll need to commit. Across most professional leagues, the length of a hockey game is the same. 

However, we'll not only tackle an NHL hockey game length in this piece but also how long you can expect a recreational game to last.

Let's jump right into it.

How long does an ice hockey game last?

Ice hockey games are 60 minutes long, containing three 20-minute periods. In an NHL game and many other professional hockey leagues, periods 1 and 2 are followed by an 18-minute intermission.

Have hockey periods always been 20 minutes?

Originally, hockey was played in two 30-minute halves. However, the game transitioned to 20-minute periods to allow for ice cleaning more frequently.

As the play progresses in a hockey game, the ice quality deteriorates as more snow accumulates. 20-minute periods helped this and were adapted fully in the 1910-1911 NHL season.

Why are hockey intermissions 18 minutes?

Hockey intermissions are typically 18 minutes to allow the Zamboni to clean the ice. In the NHL, there is usually an event at the start of the intermission to keep fans entertained, followed by two Zambonis cleaning the ice to speed up the process.

Why does hockey have two intermissions?

The two-intermission format was brought into the game of hockey during the 1910-1911 NHL season. The two-intermission, three-period format allowed the NHL to maintain the ice quality during play.

Players are also allowed to rest and regroup in the intermissions. The players value the break from the physically demanding game. At the same time, the coaches are afforded time to strategize and advise players on their tactics moving forward.

How long is the total time to play a hockey match?

You should plan to spend anywhere from two to two and a half hours playing a hockey game from start to finish.

If you're confused about why this is, let's dig into it. The official period of play is 20 minutes x 3 periods (1 hour). Still, the play stops every time the referee blows the whistle, whether it be the puck leaving the playing surface, a penalty, or even a goal. 

There is also an intermission after the first and second periods (2 x 18 minutes).

So, for a regular hockey game, it can be broken down like this:

  • Total Playtime: 60 minutes
  • Total Intermission: 18 + 18 minutes = 34 minutes
  • Injuries & stoppages (average): 15-25 minutes

Average total game time: 2 hours ten minutes to two and a half hours.

How long is the average NHL game?

For NHL game television broadcasts, networks schedule a 2-hour and 30-minute time slot for a game to be played. However, they will typically not schedule a time-sensitive program immediately following the game, given that games frequently run over time.

But for fans, the game is even longer, as you need to arrive before the start of the game. By the way, if you plan to go to a game, you'll want to know how cold an ice rink is to decide what to wear.

Stoppages in the play take up as much time as they do because of commercials that run during the game broadcasts. But there are also practical reasons for stoppages, tv and team timeouts, and intermissions.

During commercial breaks, NHL teams will send out their ice crew to shovel excess ice shavings and snow off the ice. Doing so allows the puck to travel faster on the ice surface.

NHL Playoff Hockey Game Times

The NHL Playoffs add another factor to the length of games because they play sudden-death overtime if the game is tied at the end of regulation (60 minutes.)

Regular season games conclude their overtime after five minutes. From there, they play 5 minutes extra time with only three skaters and a goalie on the ice for each team.

If no team scores in the five-minute overtime period, the game goes to a shootout – which usually ends within a few minutes, and a winner is declared.

But during the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Playoffs, regulation time ends and is extended to a 20-minute overtime period. These overtime periods continue to be played until one team scores. This potentially endless style of overtime is called "sudden death."

Because the teams play until someone scores, postseason games can sometimes last for extra hours.

In the NHL's modern era, the longest overtime game lasted 92 minutes and 1 second of extra playing time. That means the overtime goal was scored 12 minutes into the fifth overtime period – making it the eighth 20-minute period of the game.

But extremely long overtime games are uncommon. It is a regular occurrence to see a playoff game go into double and triple overtime a few times per playoff season.

Professional hockey games will, at the least, run for around 2 hours and 20 minutes. But when you factor in your arrival time, you'll spend closer to 3 hours at the arena. 

Pregame arrival, three periods of play, stoppages, two intermissions, and the possibility of overtime will result in a fun night. Just be aware that the game runs longer than the 60 minutes of running clock action.

What time does a 7 PM hockey game end?

If you're looking to attend or watch a hockey game that starts at 7 PM, you should plan to be done watching by nine or 9:30 PM. 

If you are attending the game, getting from your seats to your vehicle or other method of transportation can add significant amounts of time depending on how busy the arena is.

What time should I get to a hockey game?

If you're attending a hockey game, you'll want to get to the arena 45 minutes before the game if you'd like to soak up the entire experience.

Time (PM) Typical Hockey Game Process
5:30 Player Warmup or Entertainment (Depends on the Venue & Game)
6:05 Puck Drop to Start the First Period
6:45 End of Period – Intermission
7:00 Puck Drop to Start the Second Period
7:40 End of Period – Second Intermission
7:55 Puck Drop to Start of Third Period
8:35 The Game Ends – Unless There is Overtime etc.

Of note, the actual game starts 15 minutes after the stated time. In this case of a 7 PM game, puck drop will be somewhere around 7:15. In the NHL, they try to have puck drop approximately 7 minutes after the game start time.

Why arrive well before the puck drop? To get your seat and be inside the arena on time. You'll also need time to get through the queues and grab snacks. 

You may also want to arrive early to see the teams take warmup. This can be a unique experience, seeing professional hockey players preparing for the game.

If your game starts at 7 PM, aim to line up at the right entrance gate at 6:15 PM. The gate lineups move quickly, but an NHL arena will likely be busy once you enter the concourse.

The exact time you arrive depends on the size of the arena and the number of fans in attendance. If in doubt, contact the arena or arrive slightly earlier to avoid missing the start.

There are plenty of sights to see at professional sports arenas, so you can never be too early – so long as you're there after the gates open.

Hardcore fans typically arrive much earlier, while casual fans can arrive 5-10 minutes before the start of the game. Season ticket holders may also arrive right at puck drop since they attend the games regularly.

The anthem (sometimes two anthems if teams from different countries are playing) is sung at the time the game is scheduled to start. Puck drop usually immediately follows the singing of the anthem(s).

Pregame ceremonies and honors can sometimes cause the event to run longer before the puck drops.

If you're in a special seat or a box, you'll probably want to arrive a bit earlier to enjoy some drinks. These seats are expensive, so you'll want to take advantage of the fancy experience and savor every minute.

When do players arrive before a game?

Here are some approximate numbers for NHL-level games. The team's staff arrives early to prep the locker room, and players arrive later to warm up and get in their gear.

Players will also likely have been at the arena earlier in the day for the morning skate. But they'll leave and return before the game in the evening.

Usual Gameday Arrival Times

  • Home team staff: 2,5 to 3 hours before game time
  • Away Team: 2 hours
  • Home team Players: 1.5 hours before the game.
  • Off-ice officials: 1 to 1,5 hour before game time
  • On-ice officials: 45 minutes to 1 hour before the game.

Recreational Games

Lower league games, from beer leagues to local area leagues, have the same amount of ice time. Still, because the rinks are smaller and the ceremonial aspects shorter – you can comfortably arrive closer to the puck drop. As a fan you can come later and leave earlier – because there are fewer queues.

In some situations, recreational hockey may only have an intermission after one period or none at all. This can change depending on the time the teams have booked the ice.

You also may run into a situation where a recreational or beer league team has 15-minute periods instead of 20. Or, they potentially run what is called "run-time," where the clock is not stopped when the whistle is blown or a goal is cored. 

These are all things to consider when trying to figure out how long the hockey game you're attending will be.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada,

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