Empty net. It’s one of my favorite times in a close game. It keeps me on the edge of my seat, whether I’m rooting for the team that’s ahead or jeering the one that’s behind. So, why would a goaltender leave the net empty? Strategy.

Six Players on the Ice

To understand empty net, I have to point out one of the fundamentals of hockey. Except for those times when a team gets a penalty called and they put a player in the box, each team has six players on the ice. This is usually five skaters and one goaltender, but it doesn’t have to be. A coach can choose to pull the goalie and replace him with a skater at any time, but obviously there has to be a good reason to leave the net without protection.

Empty Net to Tie Things Up

Patrick Roy, former Colorado Avalanche coach, would pull the goalie 10 minutes into the third period to avoid a loss. But most coaches take a more conservative approach and wait until the last couple of minutes. The strategy is to give the skaters an opportunity to get aggressive with an extra attacker and score a tying goal. But the cost is that the other team can steal the game with an empty net goal. Just like any strategy, it’s a calculated decision that could go either way.

Delayed Penalty Empty Net

Sometimes the goalie will leave the net on a delayed penalty. It’s a safe move because the other team can’t score on that type of empty net. Here’s why. When a delayed penalty is called, the ref won’t interrupt play until the offending team touches the puck. This gives the other team (the victim of the penalty, if you will) a chance to score even before they go on a power play. The offending team can’t touch the puck, so the extra attacker can help score an extra point before the power play ensues.

Whether I’m watching my home team stay ahead or hoping that our extra attacker gets the goal, empty net will always be my favorite. Win or lose, empty net is the ultimate symbol that a team never gives up without a fight-even if it means leaving the net empty.

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