Hockey is a game that revolves around speed and skill—and, well, there’s a reason why the sport is also known as “the fastest game on ice.” Every part of the game, from breaks down the puck to making passes, is conducted at a much faster pace than in other sports, which makes the game more exciting to watch and play. But how fast is fast enough? Or, rather, how long is each quarter in hockey? We examined some of the most essential math behind the game to figure out how much time is going by in each period.
The first quarter of a hockey game is arguably the slowest. After all, the first 15 minutes of a hockey game are usually eaten up by the opening faceoff, which is a tradition that goes back generations and serves as a valuable learning tool for young players. This is also where coaches usually settle in for the bulk of the game, and they’re usually the only ones talking during these early stages. Needless to say, the pace of the game isn’t as frantic as in the other three periods.
The second quarter of a hockey game is often seen as the “middle period.” It typically lasts for 30 to 40 minutes, which gives the players and action plenty of time to develop. The middle period is when coaches usually come out on the ice and work with the players during stoppages in play. While these occurrences are common and typically serve a constructive purpose, they can sometimes drag on a little too long and prevent the momentum built up in the first half of the game from continuing to the latter stages.
Some hockey fans believe that the extra quarter makes a difference in the game’s outcome. Although the official NHL statistics don’t back this claim up, coaches do. According to George Kingston, a hockey coach and sports educator, “The tendency nowadays, especially in the NHL, is to play a longer game. The idea is to go as long as you can against the clock.” While playing an extra quarter of a hockey game might seem appealing, coaches know that it’s often the speed of the game that decides the outcome, not the clock. They also know that it’s better to finish the game on a high note and bring the energy level down after such a long break.
The third quarter of a hockey game is often cited as the most exciting. This is where the pace of the game really picks up, and it’s an active quarter throughout, with constant movement and lots of action. The third quarter is often where the majority of goals are scored, and it’s also when the most penalties are given out for dives and fights. Because the game usually ends by the time the third quarter is over (whether it’s due to a timeout or the end of the game), there’s no need to stop and start the clock over again at the end of the third quarter.
The most exciting part about the third quarter is how quickly it passes, with a minimum of breaks down the puck. In other words, the action is continuous, which keeps the fans engaged and ensures that the game doesn’t end too quickly. This makes the third quarter the perfect opportunity to catch the end of a game and enjoy one last hurrah before the start of the next period.
The final quarter of a hockey game is similar to the third quarter in terms of pace, but with one huge difference: The last 15 minutes of the game are usually played at a breakneck speed known as “fast-paced hockey.” It’s the final burst of energy before players collapse from exhaustion and signal the end of the game.
Like the second quarter, the final quarter can also be frustrating for a coach who’s trying to win the game. If a team is down by one goal with five minutes left and the coach decides to pull the goalie, the opposition can immediately score. This means that the coach might as well have given up because his strategy didn’t work out as planned. Players and coaches know this, which is why they usually try to avoid these situations. Since the endgame is so decisive, coaches and players are always pushing themselves to their limits in order to leave everything they have on the ice at the end.
Clock Versus Ice Hockey
All of this math might make you want to know the actual time that passes in each period of a game. Thanks to modern technology, this is now possible, and it’s exactly what the stats say. Here’s a breakdown of each period and how much time passes while you’re watching an average game:
A faceoff is a brawl that takes place after a faceoff in an attempt to determine who will have the puck first. These are usually fast-paced battles that can last for several minutes as players and crowds alike join the fray. This is because it’s not only about who wins the faceoff; it’s about everyone having a good time and getting some exercise at the same time.
The opening faceoff is the tradition-bound, pre-game meeting between coaches to discuss strategy and lineup. Usually held 15 minutes before the first puck is dropped, these meetings can go a long way toward determining the course of the game. However, once the puck is dropped, the coach’s words are drowned out by the sound of skates on ice and the bellowing of the crowd.
The first break is when the defense drops back to prevent the puck from being passed to the offense, creating a small opening in the defense. The break can last for several minutes as the defensemen track the puck, preventing it from being re-directed to the point man or another player.
Like the other periods of a hockey game, the offssense break is when players on the ice receive the puck and begin their attack. However, instead of a faceoff ring, referees use a puck drop to start the period. Once the puck is dropped, the attack begins, and players can either rush the puck up the ice or shoot on goal.
The second break is when the defense regroups after the puck has been dumped down the ice. During this time, the attacking team takes their opportunity and tries to complete a pass or shoot on goal.
The puck-out is when the attacking team regroups after dumping the puck down the ice and starts their attack again. Like the other periods of a game, the puck-out break is typically two minutes in length. However, after the puck is dropped and players begin skating, it can go as long as two minutes or more before the attack begins again.
The penalty box is where penalties are given out for a variety of offenses, from hooking and holding to roughing, goalie interference, and more. Penalties are important in hockey because they determine who gets to keep the puck after a stoppage in play. More importantly, they determine the pace of the game during those times when play is halted. After a penalty is assessed, the other team gets a brief power play during which they can skate up and down the ice and attempt to score without obstruction.
Shootouts are a game-winning or -forcing situation in which a goaltender or a team of score-challenged players work to pot a puck past the opposing team’s defense. It is, in effect, a sudden-death version of hockey in which the teams’ skill is put to the test.
As with any other part of the game, there are many strategies that a team can use to ensure that they walk away with the puck. A coach might try to confuse the other team’s defense by passing the puck to a teammate in the corner, only to have the teammate skate directly to the opposition’s goal instead of towards the corner.
One of the most well-known shootouts in hockey history took place in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game. Team Orr, made up of alumni of the Edmonton Oilers, had to defeat Team Cherry, made up of former players from the Philadelphia Flyers, to win the game. The puck was tied 1-1 entering the final minute of play, and two goals were scored in the last minute to send the game into a shootout. In the end, it was Team Orr that came away with the win, thanks to a shootout goal by Mark Messier.
While a shootout isn’t something that happens every game, hockey fans from around the world have grown accustomed to them. The skill required and the tension created are what make them so fascinating to watch.