Why Does Ice Hockey Have Three Periods? (For Beginners)

Have you ever been to a hockey game and realized there isn’t going to be a halftime?

Well, unlike football, basketball, and soccer which use either a quarter and half system, hockey has three “periods”.

Did you know that…

Before 1910-11, professional ice hockey games didn’t have three periods. They had two halves.

Pro hockey had two 30-minute halves… that is, until Frank and Lester Patrick showed up to the scene and switched it to three periods.

So, why does ice hockey have three periods?

In this article, we’ll show exactly why hockey uses a 3-period system and why it’s important to the game.

Let’s dive in.

Here’s Why Ice Hockey Is Played in Three Periods:

Hockey is played in three periods to maintain the ice for better play. The longer hockey players skate on the ice, the more the ice quality diminishes. Splitting the game into 3 periods is better than 2 halves because it gives the Zamboni a chance to clean the ice to improve the game.

When Did the NHL Go to 3 Periods?

The NHL had a halftime… Over 100 years ago.

The sport was just like football: two halves.

But, in 1910-11, the rules changed.

Two pioneers of professional ice hockey—Lester and Frank Patrick adjusted the way the game was played.

After 1911, professional hockey would be played for three periods. And this has continued to this day.

The only time a game doesn’t have three periods is if it goes to overtime (for a fourth period).

Why Does the NHL Have 3 Periods?

Forefathers of ice hockey believed the sport needed to change it’s two-half system to a three-period system for two reasons:

1. The main reason was because the ice was getting too rough by halftime. 

The game slowed down. The puck would get lost when hockey players would stickhandle the puck. The game didn’t flow as well. 

It was also dangerous as guys would toe-pick and go flying from the rough ice.

The zamboni would come out once at halftime before then. But, after transitioning to the three-period system, the Zamboni would come out twice during the game to freshen up the ice.

This improved the overall game: the flow, the skills, the performance, and prevented injuries.

2. The second reason was to increase sales. 

Legend has it that the extra intermission would also provide something beneficial for the owners: more sales.

By adding in a second intermission after the first and second periods, it gave attendees the chance to buy more from the concession stands.

This extra period definitely added to sales. More pretzels. More hot dogs. More beer.

And, while the NHL didn’t actually come into existence until 1917, the three-period (and two intermissions) system was adopted.

Why Doesn’t Hockey Have 2 or 4 Periods?

Most major sports have an even number of periods.

Football and soccer have two halves. Basketball has four quarters.

There’s a reason for this. 

For one, having two periods provides an equal opportunity for players to play on each end.

So, why doesn’t hockey use a two or four-period format?

It seems as though it may create an unfair advantage for a team.

Well, the primary reason isn’t about giving one team the edge up. It’s because the ice was getting beat up too much by halftime. 

So, why does hockey have two intermissions?

Professional hockey used to play with a single intermission at halftime. But the ice was getting nasty and rutted. Plus, it would be covered in snow by halftime. This slowed the game down big time. 

By switching from one intermission to two intermissions, it gave the NHL arenas a chance to clean the ice one more time before the game ended.

This dramatically changed the flow of the game. It became faster, smoother, and more exciting.

This also helped players. They got another chance to rest in between shifts. 

So, why didn’t the NHL just make it four quarters rather than an uneven three periods?

Well, it was likely because three did the trick. They didn’t necessarily need the fourth quarter as the ice improved as much as it needed to with three periods. 

Want more answers to the most common hockey questions? Be sure to check out our other popular articles: Why Does Ice Hockey Have Goal Horns, What Are ODR Rules (Outdoor Hockey Rink), and What Are the Top 10 Ice Hockey Countries?



Recent Posts