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, resulting in an empty net.
The extra attacker is typically utilized in two situations:
The term sixth attacker is also used when both teams are at even strength; teams may also pull the goalie when shorthanded by a player, in which case the extra attacker would be a fifth attacker. It is exceptionally rare for a penalized team to do so during five on three situations.
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.
In leagues like the National Hockey League where regular season standings are based on a point system (i.e. two points are awarded for a win, one point for losing in overtime or a shootout, and zero points for a loss in regulation), a team may be forced to use an extra attacker even when the score is tied near the end of regulation of a game at or near the end of the regular season to avoid being eliminated from playoff contention. The NHL discourages teams from pulling their goaltender during an overtime period; if a team does so, and subsequently loses the game when their opponent scores an empty net goal, the losing team does not receive the one point in the standings they would otherwise have received for an overtime loss.
The extra attacker concept was created by Art Ross, coach and general manager of the Boston Bruins. In a playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens on March 26, 1931, Ross had goaltender Tiny Thompson go to the bench for a sixth skater in the final minute of play; even so, the Bruins lost the game 1-0.