There are many types of passes in hockey that get used in games. But there’s one type of pass in hockey that doesn’t require players to use their stick – the “hand pass”.
So, what is a hand pass in hockey?
A hand pass in hockey is when a player hits the puck with their hand toward a teammate. Hand passes can be legal or illegal depending on who hits the puck, who receives the hand pass, and where the players are on the ice. An illegal hand pass results in a stoppage and a face off.
Throughout this article, we’ll explain what a hand pass is, whether or not hand passes are illegal, and how the NHL and USA Hockey define hand passes. We’ll also explain how penalties are assessed for hand passes and answer some common questions about them.
What Is a Hand Pass?
A hand pass in hockey is when a player uses their hand to hit or bat the puck to a teammate instead of using their stick. When a player catches the puck in the air or goes to make a hand pass, they must drop the puck immediately.
Are Hand Passes Illegal?
Whether or not a hand pass is illegal depends on where the hand pass happens and who receives the hand pass. The only time that a hand pass is legal is when a player is in their own defensive zone, and hand passes the puck to another player on his team in the same zone.
Hand passes made outside of the defensive zone are illegal. When an illegal hand pass occurs, there is a stoppage of play, and a face-off occurs where the hand pass was made, as long as the offending team isn’t given an advantage from the face off location.
Hand passes in the offensive zone are illegal because using your hand to pass the puck can be more accurate than using your stick. So if a player makes an accurate hand pass in their offensive zone, they could have a good chance of scoring.
Can a Goalie Make a Hand Pass?
Yes, a goalie can make a hand pass since they’re in the defensive zone. The player who receives the hand pass must be a teammate in the defensive zone or a player on the opposing team.
Here is the rule from the NHL Rulebook about hand passes made by goalies:
“A goalkeeper shall be assessed a minor penalty when he throws the puck forward towards the opponent’s net. In the case where the puck thrown forward by the goalkeeper being taken by an opponent, the Referee shall allow the resulting play to be completed, and if goal is scored by the non-offending team, it shall be allowed and no penalty given; but if a goal is not scored, play shall be stopped and a minor penalty shall be imposed against the goalkeeper.”
Can You Make a Hand Pass in the Defensive Zone?
Yes, a hand pass is legal when a player is in the defensive zone, whether it’s passing to another player on their team or to a player on the other team by accident.
Here is the NHL’s ruling on hand passes made in the defensive zone from the official NHL Rulebook:
“Play will not be stopped for any hand pass by players in their own defending zone. The location of the puck when contacted by either the player making the hand pass or the player receiving the hand pass shall determine the zone it is in.”
NHL Hand Pass Rule
Here’s the NHL’s hand pass rule from the official NHL Rulebook:
A player shall be permitted to stop or “bat” a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the on-ice officials, he has directed the puck to a teammate, or has allowed his team to gain an advantage, and subsequently possession and control of the puck is obtained by a player of the offending team, either directly or deflected off any player or official.
Is a Hand Pass a Penalty in Hockey?
A hand pass penalty is called when a player makes a hand pass to another player on his team and they’re both outside of their defensive zone; otherwise, there is no penalty on a hand pass.
Here’s what happens when a hand pass is called:
“When a hand pass violation has occurred, the ensuing face-off shall take place at the nearest face-off spot in the zone where the offense occurred, unless the offending team gains a territorial advantage, then the face-off shall be at the nearest face-off spot in the zone where the stoppage of play occurred, unless otherwise covered in the rules. When a hand pass violation occurs by a team in their attacking zone, the ensuing face-off shall be conducted at one of the face-off spots outside the defending team’s blue line in the neutral zone.”
Are Hand Pass Reviewable?
Hand passes weren’t reviewable in the NHL before the 2019 season. But, as of the start of the 2019-20 season, some hand passes can now be reviewed.
This rule change only applies to goals that may result from a hand pass, and the hand pass must’ve occurred in the offensive zone. The play can’t be reviewed if the hand pass occurs in the neutral zone.
This rule change resulted from a play between the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals.
A player on the Sharks made a hand pass to Erik Karlsson, who then scored a goal. But the play wasn’t reviewable at the time, so the goal stood, and the Sharks went on to win the game.
The NHL admitted to making a mistake on the play by allowing the goal to stand, so they changed the rule to allow hand passes to be reviewed.
Can Hockey Players Catch the Puck?
A hockey player can catch the puck with their hands as long as they drop it immediately upon contact. Play stops as soon as they hold onto the puck, with a minor penalty being assessed.
Goalies are allowed to hold onto the puck for three seconds before they must drop it and resume play. Here is the NHL Rulebook’s rule for catching and holding the puck by a goalie:
“A goalkeeper who holds the puck with his hands for longer than three seconds shall be given a minor penalty unless he is actually being checked by an opponent. The object of this entire rule is to keep the puck in play continuously and any action taken by the goalkeeper which causes an unnecessary stoppage must be penalized without warning.
A goalkeeper shall be assessed a minor penalty when he deliberately holds the puck in any manner which, in the opinion of the Referee, causes an unnecessary stoppage of play.”
How Long Can You Hold onto the Puck?
A player can’t hold onto the puck for any amount of time. If they catch it in mid-air, they must immediately drop it to the ice; otherwise, they’re given a minor penalty.
Here is the NHL Rulebook’s rule for catching and holding the puck:
“A player shall be permitted to catch the puck out of the air but must immediately place it or knock it down to the ice. If he catches it and skates with it, either to avoid a check or to gain a territorial advantage over his opponent, a minor penalty shall be assessed for “closing his hand on the puck”.
Can a Player Cover the Puck in the Crease?
A player other than the goalie isn’t allowed to cover, pass, or otherwise interfere with the puck in the crease.
Suppose a defending player grabs or hand passes the puck from the crease when there is no goalie on the ice. In that case, an automatic goal may be awarded to the other team. This situation would only occur if the defending player clearly prevented what would’ve been a goal by covering the puck in the crease.
If this rule didn’t exist, teams would likely pull their goalies off the ice much more often and have the other players just defend the goal with their hands.
Here’s the rule regarding players covering pucks in the crease from the NHL Rulebook:
“If a defending player, except a goalkeeper, while play is in progress, falls on the puck, holds the puck, picks up the puck, or gathers the puck into his body or hands from the ice in the goal crease area, the play shall be stopped immediately and a penalty shot shall be awarded to the non-offending team…
If a player, when the goalkeeper has been replaced for an extra attacker, falls on the puck, holds the puck, picks up the puck, or gathers the puck into his body or hands from the ice in the goal crease area, the play shall be stopped immediately and goal awarded to the non-offending team.”
USA Hockey Hand Pass Rule
Here’s the USA Hockey’s official hand pass, or handling puck with hands, rule:
“A player or goalkeeper shall not be allowed to “bat” the puck in the air, or push it along the ice with his hand, directly to a teammate unless the “hand pass” has been initiated and completed in his defending zone, in which case play shall be allowed to continue. If the “hand pass” occurs in the neutral or attacking zone, a stoppage of play will occur and a face-off will take place according to last play face-off rules provided no territorial advantage has been gained.
No goal can be scored as a result of the puck being propelled by the hand of an attacking player regardless if the puck enters the goal directly from the hand or deflects off of any player prior to entering the goal…
If a goalkeeper catches the puck and throws it forward towards his opponent’s goal and it is first played by a teammate, play shall be stopped and the ensuing face-off shall be held at the nearest end face-off spot of the offending team.”
Can You Throw the Puck into the Goal?
No, a player may not score a goal by using their hand to push, throw, or otherwise guide the puck into the net. Even if the puck deflects off another player or stick, or the player uses their hand to pass the puck to another player who then scores a goal, it will not count because of the use of the hand to score the goal.
“A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who bats or directs the puck with his hand into the net. A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who bats or directs the puck and it is deflected into the net off any player, goalkeeper or official. When the puck enters the net on a clear deflection off a glove, the goal shall be allowed.”