Pulling Your Goaltender? Now What?

(Originally submitted as an article by Greg Siller for Hockey Player Magazine - www.hockeyplayer.com)


Substituting an offensive attacker for your goaltender, at the right time, can give your team the additional offensive power needed to score a goal and even come from behind to win the game. This move is usually executed during the last minute or two of the game when your team is down by a goal or two, during a delayed penalty on your opponent, during the last few seconds of a period when the face-off is deep in your offensive zone, or when you are on a power play and are behind by a goal or two. You can pull your goaltender prior to a face-off (alerting your opponent) or during the play (and incorporate the element of surprise).

Why Pull Your Goalie?

A coach can decide to pull the goaltender for many reasons. Most coaches consider pulling their goaltender only when their team is performing fairly well but are just not capitalizing on their even strength opportunities. The coach’s thinking being that if we can add one more attacker, at the right time during the game, we should increase the likelihood of scoring. In other cases, the coach may try to send a signal to the team to shake them out of a scoring drought and give them the confidence they need to continue to shoot and put pressure on the opposing goaltender to score. Either way, the intensity of the game picks up a notch and players on both sides strive to seek a momentum boost to their respective team. Although pulling the goaltender may seem risky, doing it at the right time (described above), will give your team a shot to overcome its adversity.

Choose Your Players Wisely

To take advantage of pulling your goaltender, you need to use the right mix of players; with all players being well versed in handling the puck. You need two strong wingers who can get the puck out of the corners and who are accurate and quick passers. They will also need to crowd the net and create lots of traffic around the goaltender. Your defensemen need to have quick shots from the point. They also need to keep their eyes focused on the net when they shoot (not down at the puck). Your defenseman should be able to transition from a shot to a pass even when they are on the downswing of the slapshot. For ice hockey, you need to combine the skill of two centers who can work effectively in and around the slot, and for roller hockey, you will just need one center and add an additional winger.

What’s The Plan Boss?

Now that you have your team, how do you put the puck in the net? There are two schools of thought when pulling the goaltender. The first school (generally in North American ice hockey) believes that you just need to put the puck on net and then send your army to attack. The second school (generally in roller hockey and European ice hockey) believes that patience and pinpoint passing will give you your scoring opportunity. The truth is that you need to decide on the proper approach based on the flow of your game and your players. If pinpoint passing has worked well during your game, stick with it. If your passing game is off, crash the net (and vice versa).

The keys to effectively utilizing your extra attacker are:

·         Support your puck carrier. Get open so that you can receive a pass and get to the front of the net.

·         Do not make long cross-rink passes unless you are SURE that the puck will get through. Puck control is critical when your goaltender is pulled.

·         If you have a high percentage shot (in or near the slot), take it. Do not wait for the perfect moment before you shoot.

·         Defensemen generally need to keep their shots low. This will provide for rebounds which will give your team another chance to score. If you see an opening up high, use that opportunity as well.

·         Keep one attacker in front of their goaltender at all time. If you have a player there, the other team will too. And if two’s company, adding the goaltender will make a crowd.

·         If you lose control of the puck at any time, send two forecheckers on the opposing puck carrier. The closest forechecker plays-the-body and the second forechecker gets the puck.

·         During offensive zone face-offs, send all-but-one of your players up front. This will provide a strong presence whether you win the face-off or not. When you have a defensive zone face-off, put your goaltender back in net. Once you transition with the puck out near the center red line, remove your goaltender for the extra attacker.

·         Use your players to create room for the puck carrier by setting floating picks on an opponent. This creates time and space for puck movement.

·         Keep your head up and read, react, and anticipate quickly; both individually and as a team.


Once you have the puck down low in your offensive zone, move the puck to get off a good shot. If you are pressured down low, put the puck behind the goal line/net or send it back to your point (Figure 1). If you can get it to your center (C1), pass it and then have C1 get the puck to RF for a one-timer. Using your second center (C2) behind the goal line/net is effective because most teams do not like to chase the puck carrier behind their net.


                             Figure 1                                                              










If your point man has the puck (Figure 2), direct one player (C1) in front of their goaltender and one (LF) off to the side of net. These two players should be ready to screen the goaltender, deflect the shot, and get any rebounds that become available. RF should maneuver to an open area to receive a pass if LD elects not to shoot. Many times, in all the commotion, RF will be wide open and can move in on net for a clear shot.


                             Figure 2                                                               


















If you believe that the time is right to pull your goaltender, choose your most appropriate players, and put a plan into play designed to get you back into the game. Practicing these plays will reduce dumb mistakes and give your team an excellent chance for a big payoff.



Greg Siller, founder of Pro Learning Systems (www.prolearning.com), has put his 25 years of ice and roller hockey experience into authoring several hockey articles as well as two highly acclaimed hockey books;

The Hockey Practice Playbook and Roller Hockey: Skills and Strategies for Winning On Wheels.