Why The Goalies Leave The Net In Hockey

Toward the end of a hockey game, we often can see an empty net from the team that’s losing.

Hockey teams will pull their goalie in order to get another skater on the ice. This creates a 6 on 5 match up, which allows the offense to be more aggressive to score a desperate goal.

Hockey is a physically demanding sport. Skaters are consistently working at maximum velocity up and down the ice. The consistent skating has a price on the player’s legs and stamina as the game continues.

When the game nears the end, we’ll often see the hockey net empty with no goalie. Why do teams leave the net empty? Let’s learn why!

Why Do Teams Leave The Hockey Net Empty?

There’s two main reasons why a hockey team will leave the net empty during the course of the game. To someone who is new watching the game of hockey, it may seem odd to have an empty net.

Teams will often leave the net empty in order to add extra players on the ice, to add to the offensive attack. There are significant advantages to having an extra skater on the ice.

However, there are some advantages (and disadvantages, which we’ll cover as well) to having an empty net. Let’s look at the advantages.

Skater Advantage

First and foremost, hockey teams will pull their goalie in order to gain a skater advantage on the ice.

Hockey is typically played 5 vs 5 (two defenseman, two wings and a center) with a goalie on the ice to make it 6 vs 6. However, when the goalie leaves the ice, the team is able to bring an extra skater on the ice to keep it 6 vs 6. This means there’s still 5 skaters on the ice, with an additional skater and no goalie.

Teams will do this in order in order to get an extra skater on the ice to attack the net, in a close game situation. Typically when the team is down by 1 or two goals in the third period, teams will do this as a desperate attempt to score a goal.

This also puts a tremendous amount of stress on the defense to clear the puck out of their zone. An extra person on the attack may not seem like a lot, but it’s one extra body for the defense to account for, and naturally they’re out numbered.

Here’s an example of how an extra skater on the ice works.

As mentioned, this typically only works when the puck is in the offensive zone. Teams will never pull the goalie when the puck is in the defensive zone.

If a face-off occurs, teams will more often put their goalie back in the net an wait for the puck to to get back into the offensive zone.

Delayed Penalty

On a delayed penalty, teams will often pull their goalie to get an extra skater on the ice.

A delayed penalty is when a penalty has been committed, however the puck has not been touched by the team that committed the penalty. For instance, if a a tripping penalty occurs, you’ll see the referee put his hand in the air, signaling that a delay penalty is going to be called.

If the offense is on the attack, the referee will let the game continue, as the offense has a chance to score. It’s only when the puck is touched by the team that committed the penalty, will the referee stop the game.

Teams have used this strategy to try to get an extra skater on the ice and add more pressure on the attack.

Disadvantages of An Empty Net

The disadvantages of the empty net is leaving the scoring post wide open for the other team to easily score.

If the team scores when the net is empty, it typically means the game is over an the opposing team needs to score 2 or 3 extra goals which is much, much harder to do.

If you’re going to pull the goalie, make sure the offense is playing aggressive and is consistently smothering the puck. Any tired or lack luster players on the ice could be the difference between scoring a goal and giving up a goal.

When there’s a delayed penalty, the risk lowers tremendously. As mentioned, once the opposing team touches the puck on the delayed penalty, the play is immediately blown dead. This is a lower risk for the team pulling their goalie and should be done whenever there’s a delayed penalty in the offensive zone.

When Can A Skater Come On The Ice When Pulling The Goalie?

The skater can come on the ice once the goalie is on the bench. This is similar to the rules of a line change. The goalie change is no different for the player.

We must caution that if you’re going to put your goalie back in the game at any point in time, he must be ready to go in, typically through the gate and not over the boards.

Have the goalie ready to go with the mask so that way there’s no delay in getting back in not.

This typically isn’t the case, as goalie’s will reproach the net after a stoppage in play, however it’s always good to have the goalie ready to go in case of emergency.


Pulling the goalie for another skater is beneficial toward the end of the game ( in the 3rd period) when the puck is in the offensive zone. It adds an extra attack man on the ice and helps teams be more aggressive toward the net and hopefully create enough traffic to score a goal.

Typically teams will opt for this strategy of pulling the goalie when they’re down by 1 or two goals late in the game. This is a desperation attempt to score a goal, with hopes of putting enough pucks on net that one will slip through.

This strategy is common among hockey games and can be seen regularly Teams have been successful using this strategy, and also have given up easy goals utilizing this strategy.

The key is to always attempt to get extra skaters on the ice whenever it’s strategically possible, in order to put as much pressure as possible on the goalie.

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