Your Goalie Leaves the Net, Explained

your goalie leaves the net

Goalies are a unique bunch. They face more scrutiny than other players do, so they need to be mentally strong to do well. Here’s when a goalie leaves the net and why.

Goalies are a unique bunch, especially in hockey. They face more scrutiny than other players do, so they need to be mentally strong to do well. We will discuss why a goalie leaves the net and what happens when they do not perform well.

Can a Team Play Without a Goalie?

The short answer here is yes—it is possible for a team to play when a goalie leaves the net. But some problems can arise with that. This article will address these situations.

Any hockey team can choose to pull their goalie at any time. Goalies do not have to be on the ice at all times; unless a team has been penalized, there are specific rules in place that say they must have 6 players on the ice at all times. Most teams will have 5 players and 1 goalie, but that rule is not set in stone.

The dynamic nature of the sport, including the potential for last-minute tactical shifts, adds an exciting dimension for those who engage in sports betting. This element of unpredictability, where strategies like pulling the goalie are employed, has also caught the attention of sports bettors. You may want to claim 100 free spins in Canada, where you’ll find recommendations on considering bets in such situations. Understanding the context and strategies behind goalie decisions can provide valuable insights for informed wagers.

This of course does not mean teams should go all-in and play with 6 skaters and no goalie. That would be a losing strategy, as there is no way a team can last the entire game without someone between the pipes.

When a Goalie Leaves the Net

There are several reasons why a goalie might move away from the net, leaving the crease empty. Some of the most frequent ones include:

Puck Interception: They need to be quick and skilled at getting to the puck before opposing players can reach it.

Delayed Penalty Situation: When the opposing team commits an infraction and the goalie’s team has possession of the puck, the goalie may leave the ice for an extra attacker. This creates a temporary player advantage.

Extra Attacker Strategy: In the final minutes of a game, when their team is behind, a captain or coach may replace the goalie with an extra attacker (skater). This works to boost the team’s chance of scoring and tying—and ultimately winning—the game.

Injury: If the goalie is injured, they head to the bench and are replaced by the backup goalie.

Equipment Issue: A goaltender might have a problem with their equipment that need fixing, so there is a stoppage of play.

Substitution: If a goalie is having a bad game and is letting too many pucks get by them, the goalie may be substituted with the backup goalie during the game.

As you can see, it is not uncommon to see a hockey team play without a goalie. There are several reasons why they can decide to do so, but the most common ones include a delayed penalty or when a team is looking to change the outcome of the game that is heading south.

A Risky Approach

As mentioned earlier, when a team is trying to take control in the final moments of a game they might replace the goalie with an extra offensive player, making it six skaters on the ice. This strategy increases their chances of scoring to tie or win the game. The idea here is straightforward: if a team is already losing by one goal, taking the risk of losing by two without a goalie is worth it if at least it helps in getting a tying goal.

In an ideal situation, this approach can lead to the much-needed goal and everyone on the team would be happy. However, reality does not always align with this perfect scenario.

According to some estimates, this strategy results in a goal being scored more than 15% of the time it is used. Obviously, this means that about 85% of the time it does not work; it often backfires by allowing the opposing team to score a goal and secure their victory.

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When Was Pulling a Goalie First Used?

The “pulled goalie” strategy is not a recent development in ice hockey. It originated in the 1940s when Coach Frank Boucher of the New York Rangers first made the move. (For the uninitiated, the Rangers are one of the Original 6 teams.)

Boucher decided to pull his goalie for the same reason discussed earlier—to create a better chance of scoring when his team was behind by a goal near the end of the game. This strategy was risky but often brought positive results. Due to its effectiveness, other teams quickly adopted this approach.

Coach Boucher also introduced the concept of using two goalies during a regular season. Each team would have a starting goalie and a backup goalie, and they would take turns playing throughout the season.

How Far Can a Goalie Leave the Net?

We know that goalies can leave the net, but how much freedom do they have regarding their movement? There are indeed limitations to their actions. Here’s a breakdown of the different scenarios:

Getting Pulled: Goalies must skate straight to the bench when an extra attacker replaces them.

Playing the Puck: A goaltender is restricted to skating in their half of the ice; they cannot cross the center red line.

Playing Outside the Trapezoid: The area behind the net is the Trapezoid. A goalie may play the puck there; however a goalie can skate in the corners, outside the trapezoid and behind the goal line but cannot touch the puck.

Returning to the Net after Being Pulled: Goalies can return to the net by switching places with another player. One caveat is the skater that replaced the goalie must be return to the bench before the goalie can step foot on the ice. (Otherwise, the team can be assessed a Too Many Men on the ice penalty.)

These rules outline the extent of a goalie’s movement and actions on the ice in different situations.


This article has covered the subject of how and why a goalie leaves the net. A hockey team might consider playing without a goalie in certain situations. However, it should only be used as a temporary measure since this strategy is a gamble and in most cases leads to a loss.

In some rare instances, both goalies might be injured during the game. In the NHL, for example, a designated emergency backup goalie (EBUG) attends games with their equipment on hand. This is typically someone who has played at a high level and is ready to step in if needed.

In the original publication of this article, we erroneously stated that a goalie may not touch the puck in the trapezoid. We regret the error. is reader supported. When you buy via the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.


  1. The trapezoid statement is misleading. It should state the goalie can play the puck within the trapezoid behind the net. In the corners, outside the trapezoid and behind the goal line, the goalie can skate but cannot touch the puck.

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