Pulling the goalie…when? 
by Andrew Podnieks|09 APR 2024
Japan scored with the extra attacker...but also gave up two empty-net goals.
photo: Andre Ringuette/IIHF
In the old days, the really old days when it was revolutionary, a coach might pull his goalie with 30 seconds or less when trailing by a goal. 

The gamble paid off often enough that pulling the goalie late in a game became common practise, and over time the standard was to get the extra skater on with about a minute remaining. After all, what difference does it make if you lose a game 3-2 or 4-2? 

Some time in the 1990s, coaches started to pull the ‘tender when trailing not by one but by TWO goals, figuring the same logic applied to losing 4-2 or 5-2. And even if a team rallied only once a year from two goals down, it would be worth it for the points in the standings.

But these IIHF Women’s World Championships have taken the practise to new levels, as wins become ever more important with ever more significant implications. 

Even on the first day in Utica coaches were doing things a bit differently. Trailing 2-0 in the third period to Czechia, Finnish coach Jusso Toivola pulled Sanni Ahola with 3:12 remaining. The Czechs scored just six seconds later, but Toivola still kept his goalie on the bench even though it was now a 3-0 game. Fifty seconds later, and after a second empty netter, he called give and put her back in the crease.

The next day, in the Denmark-Germany game, something similar occurred. Trailing 4-1, the Danes pulled Emma-Sofie Nordstrom with 3:33 remaining, but just 47 seconds later the Germany added a goal into the empty cage and won, 5-1. When you see the score, 5-1, you certainly don’t think an empty netter was involved.

Toivola was extra aggressive in the next game against Canada. Trailing 4-1, he nonetheless pulled Ahola with 57 seconds remaining. She stayed on the bench the rest of the game, and Canada picked up two penalties along the way, so a six skaters on five situation became six-on-four and then, briefly, six-on-three. Canada withstood the disadvantage, though, and won by that 4-1 score.

Colin Muller gave it a good go against Canada last Friday. Trailing 2-0, the Swiss coach pulled Andrea Braendli with 2:08 remaining, and the Swiss had control on and off for nearly two minutes. But Sarah Fillier found the empty net, and Brandli returned to finish the game.

Japan and Germany set an IIHF record for the fastest three goals by both teams, 52 seconds, thanks to a crazy sequence precipitated by Yuji Iizuka’s pulling of his goalie, Riko Kawaguchi. Trailing 2-0 with 1:53 remaining, she raced to the bench for a sixth skater, but just seven seconds later, Germany made it 3-0. 

Undaunted, Iizuki pulled Kawaguchi again right after the faceoff, and 23 seconds later, wouldn’t you know it—Akane Shiga ripped a high shot over Sandra Abstreiter’s glove to make it 3-1. Another faceoff at centre, and off came Kawaguchi for a third time, but Germany scored a second empty netter to salt away a 4-1 win.

The Finland-United States game also saw Anni Keisala pulled with 1:26 remaining and Suomi trailing by 5-3, but nothing came of that either way.

Iizuka surprised everyone in Japan’s game against Sweden. Trailing 5-2, he pulled Kawaguchi with 4:40 remaining, and Sweden potted a freebie about a minute later. A 6-2 score surely would never indicate an empty netter, but these days, you just never know. 

In Monday’s Germany-Sweden game we had a more standard pulling of the goalie, which also proved to be the most dramatic. Trailing 1-0, Sweden got a power play with 2:11 remaining, so coach Ulf Lundberg pulled his goalie with the faceoff in the Germany end. This created a six-on-four, but despite wild action and great pressure Germany withstood the storm and came away with the win. As in each case, it was worth the gamble, and Lundberg would do it again tomorrow if he had the chance.

Finally, last night, Muller pulled Braendli again with nearly three minutes left and his Swiss team trailing by two goals against Finland. Halfway to the end, Jenni Hiirikoski lofted a saucer shot dead centre into the net.

In all, nine of the first 16 games at this year’s Women’s Worlds have had a pulled goalie, sometimes not so late in the game. Eight empty netters have resulted, and only one extra-attacker goal, but no dramatic game-tying goal has been scored yet, and that’s the whole point of the exercise in the first place.