Six-on five creating a lot of excitement this season

As we enter the second half of the season, the excitement level is surely going to rise along with aspirations for playoffs and postseason play. Even as we enter the first full weekend of conference games, there has been a great deal of excitement created at the end of 10 games already this season, with the all or nothing thrill of the extra-attacker goal (EAG). The EAG takes place when the extra-attacking forward is used in place of the goalie pulled as a last ditch effort to tie the game and send it to overtime.  Usually, there are more empty-net goals on scoresheets, which only seems logical with the goal vacated by the netminder. This year however has been different, and more frequently teams are pulling the goalie sooner when trying to erase multiple goal deficits, as shown below.

Here’s the list of EAGs year-to-date:
11/5: St. Anselm at Babson — EAG by Greg Merrill at 19:00. Closes gap to 6-4
11/12: Skidmore at NEC    EAG by Erik Nilsson at 18:50. Closes gap to 5-4
11/19: Williams at Bowdoin — EAG by Dan Weiniger at 17:39. Closes gap to 3-2
11/19: Williams at Bowdoin — EAG by Robert Toczylowski at 18:43. Ties game at 3-3
11/22: Tufts at Curry — EAG by Garrett Sider at 19:26. Ties game at 4-4
12/9: Williams at Amherst — EAG by Evan Dugdale at 18:15. Closes gap to 5-4
12/31: Connecticut College at Hamline — EAG by Kevin Reich at 17:49. Closes gap to 3-2
12/31: Connecticut College at Hamline — EAG by Keith Veronesi at 19:46. Ties game at 3-3
12/31: Hamilton at Curry — EAG by Peyden Benning at 18:58. Ties game at 5-5
01/02: Lake Forest at Trinity — EAG by Jason McAldon at 19:02. Closes gap to 4-3

So why the big jump in the number of goals scored at the end of regulation time with the goalie pulled in favor of the extra skater?  There are a few opinions, but I thought I would go to the expert on special teams and see if he had any specific thoughts on why these goals are becoming more frequent.

Coach Jack Arena at Amherst College has seen his teams be very successful with the man advantage, as well as be effective at shutting down the opponent’s power play. Yet on Friday, December 9, at home, Williams nearly erased a 5-2 deficit in the final two minutes, including an EAG in the final 1:45 of play. In fact, had Jonathan Larose not come up with three outstanding saves in the final 45 seconds of regulation, the Ephs would have had two EAGs and tied the game at five.

“We practice the power-play and penalty-kill with a high rate of frequency in practices,” said Arena. “We do the traditional five-on-four, five-on-three, and four-on-three scenarios, but don’t believe we have ever practiced a six-on-five, so it is not something we see or do routinely as a team. Also, there is a certain level of desperation for the opponent trying to tie the score that raises the intensity or level of play in those scenarios, so that is an intangible factor that has to be considered in why there seem to be more of these types of goals scored with the goalie pulled from the net late in games.”

I surfaced the football analogy of the prevent defense in terms of teams being conservative with leads of two goals or more and enabling the opposition to be more aggressive in the offensive end late in games as a possible reason.

“That may be the case in some games, but I actually felt pretty good about our penalty kill setup late in the game with Williams, and we just made a couple of mistakes in clearing the zone that allowed them to transition with speed into the zone and create some problems. Overall, we had who we wanted on the ice and they were rested in terms of not double-shifting, so at least in our case you have to give the opponent credit in getting the puck to the open man in a good position to score and having the finish.”

In Saturday’s game at Curry with Hamilton, the goals in the third period came fast and furious. After taking a three-goal lead just over midway through the period, Curry ramped up the offense in closing the 5-2 deficit to 5-4 before Peyden Benning sent the game into overtime with the tying goal with Curry’s goalie on the bench. The excitement in the rink during the rally was spurring the Colonels on, and again the one guy not accounted for defensively found a way to slip the puck home and tie the game at five.

“We do practice pulling the goalie,” said Arena. “We might just have to start playing it through the full six-on-five offensive zone scenario, not only for if we need it in the future, but if we are faced with it again. It is all the more challenging when the change comes during the play and the extra attacker is entering an already dynamic five-on-five situation. Those are the plays where it can be difficult to find everyone and have the best coverage. I know that Williams worked it well tonight, and if it wasn’t for a couple of big saves, we might have been playing overtime.”

Twice this season, teams have rallied from two-goal deficits to gain ties in the final minutes of the third period with the goalie pulled. Bowdoin in its season-opener against Williams scored twice in 1:04 to escape with a 3-3 tie, and Connecticut College scored twice in a span of 1:57 to tie Hamline in the consolation game of the Pathfinder Bank Classic. Clearly, adrenaline and momentum have something to do with the ability to score at key times, but some coaches want to know how they bottle that for the other 58 minutes of play before the final horn.

“The sense of urgency is so high,” said Arena. “There is a more acute sense of the time remaining, the score, and the need to get the puck to the net and by the goalie. If it could be bottled, I am sure every coach would want his team to be drinking from those water bottles and taking that intangible emotion to their advantage for the full 60 minutes. At the end of the day, it is exciting to watch, but also the reason we coaches have gray hair, or for some, none at all.”

Times running down and the score is close — drop the puck!

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