Youth Hockey Game Length
Even though hockey’s origins are disputed, it has become one of the most well-known sports worldwide, with leagues ranging from ‘mini mite’ to professional. (Source: WAYHA) Whether your kid wants to become a professional hockey player, score the most points in a game, or be the fastest slapshot on a team, youth hockey is the place to start.
Youth hockey games last about an hour on average. Playing time varies in length from 36 minutes to 42 minutes, depending on the players’ age. However, tournament games are often set to three 12-minute periods due to the number of games being played.
If hockey intrigues your child, that game has several positions that they can rotate between, and it will help develop skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. The following sections will help you get familiar with the length of different youth hockey games, when children should start playing, how to find a youth hockey program, and more.
While the actual playing time will last between 36 and 60 minutes, there will be multiple points in the game where the clock stops, making the game last longer. Generally, you’re at the rink for a minimum of an hour. Usually, youth hockey games are only half the National Hockey League’s game length.
Here are the average game times for the different youth hockey leagues (source):
|Classification||Age Limit||Age Category||Average Game Time|
|Mini Mite||5-6 years||6U (6 or Under)||40-60 minutes; 3 12-minute segments|
|Mite||7-8 years||8U (8 or Under)||40-60 minutes; 3 12-minute segments|
|Squirt||9-10 years||10U (10 or Under)||40-60 minutes; 3 12-minute segments|
|Peewee||11-12 years||12U (12 or Under)||45-65 minutes; 3 15-minute segments|
|Bantam||13-14 years||14U (14 or Under)||48-68 minutes; 3 16-minute segments|
|Minor Midget||15-16 years||16U (16 or Under)||51-71 minutes; 3 17-minute segments|
In addition to the general period lengths and game times of each league, other variables increase the time you will spend at the rink. These may catch you off guard, especially if you are new to hockey.
In hockey, there are quite a few factors that can influence the amount of time you spend at the rink. If you are new to hockey, you will want to consider the following game elements when estimating the time you will spend at a youth hockey game.
If you’re dropping off your child for a game, expect to be there much earlier than the game’s actual start time. Generally, parents drop off their kids and come back to watch the game, but if you choose to stick around, you may be waiting up to an additional hour.
Before a game starts, both teams have time on the ice to warm up and get used to the rink. Usually, the warm-up periods for each team last anywhere between 2 and 5 minutes. The warm-up times vary depending on the league’s classification.
Most of the time, you will see the Zamboni out on the ice before a game begins. Sometimes if the ice gets rough, another run will take place during a break between periods. Zambonis usually take a little less than 10 minutes to smooth out the entire rink. But if this happens during a break, it can add to the length of time you are at the rink.
Sometimes gameplay can be delayed if a Zamboni driver is running late or not present. It makes a big difference skating on smooth ice, and it is safer for your kids not to be skating around on a rough surface.
Some leagues offer intermissions between each period of play. These intermissions can vary in length, anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes. Additionally, the number of intermissions can vary in each league. So, these intermissions can add on time to your game-watching experience.
However, these intermission periods are important for the children to rest, take a quick drink, and grab a snack. They can turn a game around, and it is always fun to see the kids rejuvenated after a brief intermission.
When a goal is scored, the game clock stops. This means the time left in the period freezes as the referee confirms the goal. After the goal is confirmed or nullified, the players reset, and the puck is dropped again. The clock does not start until the puck is dropped.
Two main things can happen with the hockey puck that can increase the length of a youth hockey game:
- A goalie is holding the puck – When the goalie is holding the puck long enough, the play will stop, causing the clock to stop.
- The puck flies out into the stands - A lost puck can be resolved relatively quickly. The referee usually carries extra pucks, but the clock does stop, and the play is reset.
- The puck stops moving - If the players get jammed up in a corner, and the puck stops moving for a period of time, play can stop and be reset at a face-off location.
All of these things can cause the game to stop. Generally, in youth games, these puck problems are less common.
Injuries should not be taken lightly, and hockey can be a very dangerous sport. It is essential to instill in your players that skates are dangerous and can easily injury another player or themselves. Whenever an injury occurs in the rink, the clock stops immediately and may be reset if needed, when gameplay resumes.
The following are types of injuries that will stop the clock and delay gameplay:
- Head injury – Concussions caused by collisions or broken teeth
- Blood – Any time blood is on the ice, it isn’t good; gameplay ceases so referees and coaches can remedy the situation
- Fighting – Generally doesn’t end in severe injury, but it can
- Wrist or arm injuries – Falls are inevitable on the ice and can strain your arms and wrists; arms can easily be hit if a player is not handling their hockey stick correctly
Injuries should be taken very seriously, especially in youth games. Make sure your players know how to stay safe on the ice and protect themselves from harm.
At every game, there is the possibility of a timeout being called by either team, which can increase the game’s length. Often, a timeout is negligible in the total game time. However, you have to consider the amount of time it takes to pause gameplay, and then reset the players in the rink.
Since both coaches and team captains can call timeouts, there are a few different reasons for them:
- Fatigue – The coach notices kids are more sluggish and wants to give the whole team a quick break.
- Back-to-back goals made by the other team – This interrupts the rhythm of the opposing team and hopefully disrupts the streak.
- The team needs to refocus – Maybe your players are in a bit of a funk; calling a timeout gives them a chance to rest and for you to give them the wisdom they need on the ice.
Many hockey coaches, players, and fans understand that the timeout can be an essential part of the gameplay. Many people examine the strategy behind calling a timeout. Either way, timeouts will extend game time if they are used during the game. Sometimes a timeout is not called by one or both teams; this is rare, but would not extend the length of a game. (Source: Ice Hockey)
In hockey, there are two different types of penalties: major and minor. Some leagues also consider misconduct as a different type of penalty. Minor, major, and misconduct penalties disrupt gameplay and must be handled by the referee. For instance, if there is a fight on the ice, it may take longer to resolve than a minor penalty-related interruption.
There are a few common minor penalties called during most hockey games:
- High sticking
- Holding, tripping, or hooking
Calling major penalties is less common, especially in youth hockey, but there are a few you should know:
- Boarding, slashing, or spearing
- Severe checking, from behind or to the head
There are a few other violations that can cause a game delay. Common violations include offsides and icing, but these acts do not warrant a penalty. All violations and penalties cause a delay in the play of the game. The clock will stop once a referee reports the penalty. (Source: Penalties)
If the clock runs out and the game is tied, the game will go into overtime. When a youth hockey game is tied, most leagues have an overtime period. These periods are generally very brief and will end when the time runs out, or a team scores a goal. Tied games are rare, and, depending on your league, a tie may be handled in a few different ways.
Here are two ways a tie can be resolved in a youth hockey game:
- Extra time – Play happens until a goal is scored; sometimes a reduced number of players is required; if time runs out, most games end in a tie or additional time is added to the clock
- Shootouts – Players will shoot at the goal until a point is scored and there is no tie
Based on the above types of tiebreakers, game time can vary drastically if there is a tie. Most leagues follow specific rules for tiebreakers. Tournament tiebreakers can be slightly different as time is limited because a certain number of games have to be completed within a particular time frame.
Your child usually wouldn’t begin playing hockey before the age of five. Children that start before five mostly are not ready to start the sport both physically and mentally. Starting too early can have an adverse effect that will end up with your child disliking hockey. Most organizations have teams set up for children that are aged five and up.
For those who have an interest but are older than five, you can take steps to prepare them for the ice, such as:
- Learn-to-play sessions: These are combination courses on how to skate and the elements of hockey. Learn to play programs will have coaches who help students improve their skating and knowledge of hockey while also keeping track of their progress.
- Skating lessons: For those who don’t know how to skate, skating lessons can help develop their confidence. Usually, classes will include multiple skaters and have different levels of hockey skating. Skating lessons can benefit both beginners and those who know how to skate because it will teach the fundamentals, including stance, stride, and how to be agile on the ice.
- Private hockey lessons: Private lessons allow for one-on-one time with a coach who can give their full attention to their student. The coach can help them improve their skills by developing a long-term plan, tracking their progress, and providing advice and knowledge about hockey.
Another way to know when your child is ready to play hockey is by their excitement level. If you’re the one who decided on the sport and your child hasn’t shown an interest in the game, it may affect how they do on the ice. Also, if skating is still difficult for them, it may be best to focus on skating foundations before playing hockey.
Not only can your family enjoy the sport together, but several life skills come from playing hockey:
- Teamwork: Children can work together for a common goal. The collaboration will help build social skills and motivate children to improve their friendships, communicate with each other, and cooperate.
- Sportsmanship: Whether winning or losing, sportsmanship will help children understand how to behave before and after a game correctly. Sportsmanship helps with character. It also teaches resilience, perseverance, respect, self-control, kindness, and honour.
- Supporting others: By supporting their teammates, your child can begin to connect with their peers and empathize when someone gets hurt on the rink.
- Listening skills: From listening to the coach, referee, or parents, listening skills will improve since players must pay attention to their surroundings for a safe game to continue.
- Problem-solving: The goal is to get the puck in the other team’s net, so your child will need to work with their team and develop strategies (sometimes on the spot) to get around the opposing team. Problem-solving ultimately helps identify issues and figure out the best course of action to develop a solution.
- Increased focus: Students will need to focus on aspects of the game to understand what’s happening and why. In the long run, the focus will help because it’s where thinking begins. Increasing focus abilities will help with reasoning, learning, solving problems, and even making decisions.
- Time awareness: Since the game has a time limit and is broken up into segments, there will be a growing understanding of time. If this skill continues to develop, your child will be able to determine an appropriate attitude to deadlines and time limits.
- Leadership abilities: Youth hockey allows each player to rotate between different positions; this means your child will be able to participate in a position that lets them take the lead in the game. Leadership will help with communication skills, setting goals, understanding peers, and motivation.
- Responsibility: Hockey helps with responsibility in a variety of ways. One-way children can learn to be responsible is by keeping track and taking care of their equipment. In the long run, responsible players can be given more important duties and tasks.
While there are many skills that your child can learn while playing hockey, the above is the most general abilities that they will learn. The Ontario Minor Hockey League shares essays of children that participate in hockey and what they’ve learned to enlighten others about the sport and the skills that it develops.
Parents want the best for their children, and they also want their kids to succeed at whatever they do. Sometimes there’s a fine line between enjoying a sport and becoming better.
Here are some steps you can take to help your child improve while also enjoying hockey:
- It’s youth hockey; don’t make it the major leagues: At this point in the game, it’s essential to have fun. While hockey may not always be easy, you also don’t want it to be a miserable experience.
- Build their interest early on: By beginning at a younger age, there will be more time to practice and build a solid hockey foundation. This doesn’t mean that older kids will be unable to become excellent players; it just means that more time and effort will be needed to build the necessary skills.
- Enroll in a hockey club: By participating with a club, your kids have the chance to build friendships while also becoming more acquainted with the sport.
- Invest in good equipment: Though it may cost more, quality equipment will fit better, and it will do what it was made to do without needing to be replaced as often.
- Encourage your child by taking them to watch hockey games: This will let them get an idea of if they’d like to continue playing hockey in the long run and join in the excitement of the rink.
- Foster sportsmanship earlier than later: This will help build cooperation skills with both the coach and teammates rather than getting benched for a bad attitude.
- Support your child’s practice: Help where you can until your child starts to become self-disciplined. Practice will allow for some extra time to work on fundamental abilities and potentially help with confidence.
Most of the rules for the National Hockey League and youth hockey are very similar, but there are a few subtle differences that you should be aware of:
- Face-Off Location: In the NHL, the face-off location will always be in the end zone nearest the face-off spot. The face-off spot for youth hockey is held in a neutral location on the closest face-off spot.
- High Sticks: While the NHL has minor penalties for high sticks, youth hockey usually imposes a major penalty and game misconduct.
Tripping: Referees have the final say in the NHL, whether a player meant to hit the puck first or not. In youth hockey, if a player purposely trips another, then there will be a minor penalty.
- Kicking the Puck: By using a direct kick to get the puck in the goal, the NHL will disallow the point. Youth hockey will not allow the goal if anything other than the stick is used to make the point.
Whether you and your child are experiencing hockey for the first time or hockey has been a part of your family for years, the following tips are useful:
- Remember: hockey is fun. Before all the overly competitive and stressful games, there was an original reason to pick hockey over any other sport, and that is the joy of playing the game.
- Growth beats winning every time. While winning is fun, it’s important to remember that sportsmanship and kindness are more important. You don’t want to develop underhanded tactics just to win.
- Just because other players have more skill doesn’t mean your child has none. There are so many different positions and abilities that make up a talented team. Not every player has to be the best in every position.
- It’s youth hockey, not a debate. Don’t get caught between the political hockey parties. Just let your kid enjoy the game and grow in their abilities. Some coaches will bench kids simply because the parent is setting a bad example.
- Stay positive. If mistakes were made, address it with a positive attitude rather than criticism. Nothing beats the joy out of hockey like negativity and a disappointed parent.
- Think of the long term instead of the short term. A famous saying is, “It’s a marathon, not a race”. This is true when it comes to learning how to develop hockey skills.
- Not everyone that plays hockey will stay with the sport. It’s okay if your child isn’t the next Wayne Gretzky. For some, it will be an enjoyable youth sport, while others may continue to make it a profession.
- The more hockey knowledge you have, the more you can pass along. If your child is serious about playing hockey and wants to make it to the NHL, then the best you can offer them is your support through learning about hockey and the different stages of your child’s development. By becoming more familiar with hockey, you’ll have a chance to find more opportunities.
Like other sports, hockey has a certain level of risk when it comes to getting an injury. But, for the most part, hockey is a pretty safe sport. To decrease the chances of getting injured, there’s a progression for beginners.
Hockey starts with learning how to skate and become comfortable in that ability. Since hockey is well-supervised, coaches can help players work on the foundations to avoid getting an injury.
While youth hockey is broken down into different age groups, there are also several skill levels depending on the team and program. The US has three tiers for youth hockey.
The Junior Hockey League is tier one and currently has one league: the USHL. It includes all teams with players aged 15 to 20. Those that qualify retain their NCAA eligibility and are usually on the way to play hockey in college. Those who play in the junior hockey league don’t have to pay to play, but they also don’t get paid to play.
In tier two is the NAHL. Unlike the USHL (which focuses mostly on Midwest players), the NAHL invites players from places as far as Texas and Louisiana. Like tier one, players can play for free, but they have certain expenses that tier-one players may not have to pay. Tier-two players also have the chance to continue playing hockey in college.
The third tier must pay to play hockey. There are teams from coast to coast, and the talent levels vary from person to person. Most tier three teams are age-specific, and usually, there will be private leagues that play against each other.
While youth hockey games may range between 40-60 minutes, the time commitment is usually more than an hour. From practicing to skate, learning the right techniques, and even understanding hockey on a whole new scale, the game is almost always more than the one hour on the ice.
Youth hockey can be fun for the entire family, and it’s never too late to join if your child shows interest. Just remember to keep it positive even when it’s a challenging game or practice.