Gaagaagiins Now that you mention it, and my memory isn’t perfect on this point (and I’m not going to look it up), I believe that you could play with anywhere between 2 and 6 players on your team, and it would automatically match you up with other teams with the same amount of players. I think it might have been the case that you chose during the matchmaking whether to play with people-controlled or AI goalies. So, you could play a 3v3, where 2 players are people, 3 players are AI, and then the goalies are people. Playing as the goalie was pretty fun, actually. Hockey is fast-paced enough (especially in the NHL games) that it wasn’t super likely that you’d have nothing to do.
The controls for goaltending were actually pretty interesting. You used the right analog stick, and would tried to match the direction to where the shot was going. For example, pressing down would make the goalie go on his knees and protect the “five-hole” (between the legs), pressing to the left would make you raise your left arm, etc. Pressing up would make you poke your stick out in front of you (it’s called a poke check). It was automated a bit, so that if a shot came at you and you pressed nothing, as long as you were in front of the puck the goaltender would react in some way, if maybe not the most optional. You could also press the right trigger to sit on your knees, and the left to lie down on your side. It was really hard to do competently, and absolutely ridiculous to watch as well because you would just slide around the ice like a total buffoon.
You could also play as the goalie in the single-player ‘Be a Pro’ mode, but the only way to make it even moderately fun was to play on the worst possible team and turn the difficulty all the way up, otherwise it was just a lot of sitting around. And the AIs behave in such un-hockey-like ways, that even as someone with experience playing real-life goalie in real-life hockey, it was super hard to predict what they were about to do or anything. Yet, again, I played quite a bit of it because I was a very boring teenager.