Lessons from the Chicago Blackhawks: Pull the Goalie and Beat the Clock

Written by Consultants, for Consultants (and sports enthusiasts) 

Coach Joel Quenneville made the decision to pull the goalie in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals. Chicago’s last ditch, all in, effort to extend a game that was on its way to a loss. Pulling the goalie is a coach’s ultimate decision that arguably provides the most intense and nerve-racking ninety seconds of any game. Ninety seconds when an entire city filled with desperate and hopeful fans hold their breath and inch so close to their TV sets, they can reach out and touch it with their crossed fingers and toes. The critical decision to add an extra skater on the ice is an attempt to steal a goal before those tantalizing numbers on the clock read 0.00.

 This time, the decision paid off. It’s hard to explain the wave of emotion experienced as Chicago capitalized off a Boston turnover to find the back of the net with just seconds to go. Let’s call it a wonderful cocktail of shock and euphoria. To then follow that up with the game winning goal seventeen seconds later transformed this Stanley Cup final from “Great” to “One of the best.”

 Hockey fans or not, the concept of “pulling the goalie” isn’t as unknown to us consultants as some would think. Quenneville’s decision to add an additional scorer and remove a defender was simply a reallocation of resources to achieve a “goal” within a time constraint. In these terms, most consultants involved with project management deal with these decisions on a daily basis. When it’s time to assist your project manager in making the decision to reallocate players (resources), it’s important that all entry-level consultants involved consider their timelines, team members, and budgets.

  • Timelines: The clock (timeline) is arguably the most important driver of game time decisions – the coach’s decision to pull a goalie with seventy-seven seconds remaining or a project manager’s decision to add a developer to a project experiencing “scope-creep” – they both contain similar considerations.  An entry-level consultant too must understand the impact a deadline will have on the project, i.e. the game. So ask yourself:
    • What are the critical milestone dates to consider?  How much time is left within this period?
    • What are the key deadlines for client delivery? What is the total time left on the clock?
  • Team Members: As the Blackhawks proved in this series, a single team member’s skills cannot and will not carry the entire team. Each player brings unique abilities – whether it be Patrick Kane’s speed,  Brian Bickell’s net presence, or Marian Hossa’s slap shot … it is important to help your project manager examine the team:
    • What are your team members’ abilities and skills? Are they a goalie or a forward?
    • What is your team members’ availability and allocation? How long have they been playing in the game? Are they run-down or burnt-out?
    • What are your team members’ career aspirations? Are they receiving challenging and engaging work? Are you giving your players a chance to shine on the ice?
  • Budgets: Overtime fatigues players. Similarly, constrained budgets drain projects.  When making key project management decisions, consultants can aid their project manager by understanding and clearly communicating the budget available today, as well as the predicted budget if a particular decision is made. Entry-level consultants can aid their project managers by understanding the following important figures:
    • What is our ‘burn rate’ (i.e. budget estimated to be spent) if we allocate additional resources? What is the overall risk associated with pulling the goalie and swapping in a defender?
    • How much do we have allocated for contingency? Do we have a timeout to take? 

Just like in game six, it can take less than seventeen seconds to dramatically change the course of the game. Things happen in a flash for us as well. Think about it — we have all been there: stakeholders change, deployments flop, timelines moved. Anything can happen and at times, taking on additional risk is simply unavoidable – on the ice and on a project.  It’s important to not only accept this simple fact, but also understand what you can do to reallocate resources to meet those critical deadlines. Understand your timeline, your team member’s abilities and availability and your budget. And always remember that in seventeen seconds, it can all change.


  • Alex Foucre-Stimes June 26, 2013 3:40 pm

    Can’t always beat the clock …*cough* Game 5 *cough*

  • Sagar Mehta June 27, 2013 5:14 am

    Great article. Would be interesting as a follow up to analyze the same situation from the Bruins side – up a goal with 77 seconds on the clock, you think you are going to game 7 but all of a sudden its tied. You then “know” its going to overtime – how do you play those final minutes until the buzzer reads. Things can go wrong in crunchtime and having the right mindset or contingency plan could be the difference. Either way a great win for the Blackhawks!

  • Blackbirdhawk August 4, 2013 3:34 am

    Obviously this was the best decision for the season. With games like this, it’s the coach that has all the weight on their shoulders to make such decisions and some times it pays off BIG TIME!

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