An extra attacker in ice hockey is a forward or, less commonly, a defenceman who has been substituted in place of the goaltender. The purpose of this substitution is to gain an offensive advantage to score a goal. The removal of the goaltender for an extra attacker is colloquially called pulling the goalie.
The extra attacker is typically utilized in two situations:
- Near the end of the game — typically the last 60 to 90 seconds — when a team is losing by one or two goals. In this case, the team risks a goal being scored on its empty net. In "do-or-die" situations, such as playoff elimination games, teams may pull the goalie for an extra attacker earlier in the game and/or when they are down by more goals.
- During a delayed penalty call. In this case, once the opposing team regains possession of the puck, play will be stopped for the penalty. This means there will be no chance for a shot to be taken by the penalized team, rendering the goaltender of little use. On rare occasions (and much to the humiliation of the team which has pulled its goalie), however, the puck can find its way into the empty net (without the penalized team ever gaining possession) as a result of an errant pass or other mishandling of the puck by the team with the man advantage. In this case, the goal is awarded to the player on the penalized team who had last touched the puck, and the serving of the penalty begins after the faceoff at center ice.
However, on April 13, 2005, an American Hockey League game between the Syracuse Crunch and Hamilton Bulldogs was tied, 3-3, when the Crunch pulled the goaltender in the final minute. With the Bulldogs needing just a point to clinch the final playoff spot, and the Crunch needing to win out, and hoping the Bulldogs accumulate no points in the remaining games, the Crunch pulled their goaltender in an attempt to score in the final minute of regulation to stay alive, as a regulation tie would give Hamilton the one point they needed. That resulted in an empty-net goal by the Bulldogs, and they took the final playoff spot. This type of situation is rare, but can happen in the final minutes of a game with recent rule changes in all leagues regarding regulation ties.
The term sixth attacker is also used, though it is often a misnomer, as teams may pull the goalie when shorthanded by one or two players, in which case the "sixth" attacker would actually be a fifth or fourth attacker.
Also, in overtime, an extra attacker is added automatically when a team down one player because of penalty is penalised again for a second minor penalty; the team on the power play will play five on three for the rest of the two-man advantage, and until the next whistle. In leagues with a three on three overtime, each minor penalty results in an extra attacker for the team on the power play.
Russian and Soviet coaches are known for refusing to pull their goalies when behind late in games.
The extra attacker concept was created by Weston Adams.