The Hockey Timeout: When Is the Right Time?

hockey timeout

The hockey timeout can be a valuable tool that is kept for the right moment

By Warren Tabachnick

When should your team take a hockey timeout? That question has often been the source of much anxiety for coaches and captains since its first appearance in hockey. (Quick fact: hockey timeouts were instituted in the NHL in 1983.)

The hockey timeout can be a most valuable tool that is kept tucked away for the right moment. But when is the right moment? Common examples are during a normal stoppage of play, or when the puck is blown “dead.”

In most rec hockey leagues, teams are granted a one-minute timeout (in the NHL there’s only one 30-second timeout per game). While there are some who hold out till the very end of the game to use their timeout, others are freewheeling enough to use it even in the first period.

Back in the day, the hockey timeout was instituted to allow a team to pull their goalie towards the end of a game, so that the team could gather at the bench to discuss a last-minute plan of action. These days, however, the hockey timeout is used for other reasons.

Sometimes it’s simply just a matter of allowing the players to take a quick break and grab a bit of rest. A keen coach will spot the team-wide fatigue and a timeout can give everyone a breather, not only for those who were just on the ice.

During a timeout, captains and coaches will sometimes try a variety of strategies. Often it is used to shake things up a bit and settle things down. If your team can’t get their momentum going—or the other team has too much of it—it’s probably the right time to take one.

A prime example would be when your team allows a few (2-3) goals in quick succession. A very prudent approach would be to call the timeout if there are back-to-back goals against, say, within one minute of each other. (This has a similar effect to “icing” the kicker in football.) You’d be “cooling down” opposing players who are riding high on adrenaline. The timeout also allows your team to slow down, catch their breath, regroup, and refocus.

Keep in mind that your team’s timeout becomes the other team’s timeout (and vice versa). So in a sense the “when” question becomes doubly important, considering all the reasons your hockey timeout may be used against your team and they end up allowing the opposing team time to mobilize and score.

The bottom line: Make it count. Take your timeout but use it wisely!

Warren Tabachnick is the editor of

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  1. A time out should be called, when the result works (lol)! If taken too early in a game… someone will say they used it too soon. If never taken (missed the chance to take it), someone will say “should have called a timeout.” A time to call a time out is when the result works. Hindsight is 20-20. Good luck choosing the right time.

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