Hand Passes - Not A Simple Call

Before we discuss the interpretation of hand passes, it is important that you know what the rule book states.


Rule 61d:
“A player shall be permitted to stop or ‘bat’ a puck in the air with her open hand, or to push it along the ice with her hand and play shall not be stopped, unless the player has directed the puck to a team-mate in the neutral or attacking zone.  When this occurs play shall be stopped and the puck faced-off at the spot where the offense occurred, unless the offending team gains a territorial advantage, then the face-off shall be where the stoppage of play occurred, unless otherwise covered in the rules.  Play shall not be stopped for any hand pass by players in their own defending zone.” (Canadian Hockey Referee’s Case Book/Rule Combination, 2001, pg. 170).


This rule is one of the most commonly disputed calls during the course of a game, especially at the minor hockey level.  The rule is very simple to understand if one takes the time to logically think about some situations that may happen during a game.

For instance, the puck can be passed by a player to a team-mate as long as the player receiving the pass does so in the defending zone. You must also remember that it is the location of the puck and not the skates when the pass is received that determines whether or not the play is called for a hand pass.  

Here is an example: Tie Domi is up near the red line and the puck is floating in the air towards him.  Instead of using his stick to hit the puck that is above his shoulders (potential high stick infraction), he uses his hand and passes it back towards Darcy Tucker who is located with both of his skates inside his own blue line.  The determining factor as to whether or not the pass from Tie Domi is whistled down depends on where Tucker receives the puck, not where Tie Domi hit the puck with his hands nor where Tucker's skates are located.

For instance, if Tucker receives the puck on his stick and his stick is located inside his own end zone (where his skates are currently located) then the play will continue because the receiver of the hand pass received the puck in his own defending zone.  However, if Tucker receives the pass on his stick that is located in the neutral zone then the play would be whistled down and the face-off would take place where Tucker received the pass because it penalizes the team more than it would if the face-off was taken where Tie Domi was located (closer to the other team’s net).

Possession & Control (Hand Passes):

This is the key issue that confuses the majority of the parents, coaches and players.  

Possession refers to the puck hitting a player or touching a player’s stick

Possession belongs to the last team that the puck has touched.  

The control aspect is whether or not, in the referee’s opinion, the player could manoeuvre the puck either with his stick or skates and not lose control of the puck or just have the puck touch the stick and then skip off.

Here is an example:  Paul Kariya is located in front of the Montreal Canadians’ net and Jose Theodore is in net for the Habs.  The puck is shot in the air at about chest level and Paul Kariya sees that the puck is going to miss the net so he hits the puck out of mid-air with his hand towards the net.  The puck hits Theodore in the chest but Theodore was never able to gain control of the puck (either shoot the puck or catch the puck), it just hit him and then bounced off to Jeff Friesen (a team-mate of Kariya) and Friesen was able to shoot the puck into the net.  Does the goal count?  

No.  The goal would not count because this is still considered a hand pass.  The hand pass is called because first of all the receiver of the pass received the puck on his stick in the attacking zone, and secondly, the opposing team (Habs) never gained control of the puck. They had possession of the puck when it hit Theodore, but they never had control.  Therefore, the face-off would take place in the neutral zone just outside of the Habs defending zone as this penalizes the Mighty Ducks more than having the face-off inside the Habs defending zone.

Another example would be if Paul Kariya batted the puck towards the net and the puck deflected off of either a team-mate, a Montreal player, or the goaltender (Theodore) and the puck went into the net.  This would not be considered a goal because there was no clear ‘distinct shooting action’ putting the puck into the net.  Even if Kariya’s team-mate was to intentionally deflect the puck with his stick into the net after Kariya passed the puck with his hand, no goal would count because now an illegal hand pass would have occurred and the play would be stopped.  The ensuring face-off would take place in the neutral zone nearest to the Habs end zone.  

Defending Zone to the Neutral (or Attacking) Zone:

Another example of a hand pass that occurs quite frequently is when a player in their own defending zone passes the puck with their hand to a team-mate in the neutral (or attacking) zone.

Here is an example:  Al MacInnis (defenceman for St. Louis) has been tripped and is now laying on the ice near the hash marks in his own defending zone and the puck is beside him on the ice.  Then with his hand, MacInnis bats the puck forward into the neutral zone where Doug Weight picks up the puck on his stick.  This would be called for a hand pass because the receiver of the hand pass received the puck on his stick in the neutral zone.  The face-off would take place at the spot where Al MacInnis batted the puck forward (in this instance it would take place at the end zone face-off dot in the St. Louis end).

Remember...it is where the player picks up the puck that is the determining factor. Often in a game a player will push the puck with his hand while in his defending zone. However, even if his team mate was standing beside him when the puck was pushed with the hand, if the player does not touch the puck until it is in the neutral zone, it is considered a hand pass.

Deflections are not passes!

Quite often you will see a defending player try to shoot the puck out of his zone or pass the puck in the air to a team-mate by the red line.  When this occurs the defencemen of the attacking team try to catch or stop the puck with their hands.  Then after the puck hits their hands it may deflect to a team-mate.  This is perfectly legal.

Example:  The puck is in Vancouver’s end zone and Ed Jovanovski is being pressured by and Edmonton forward, Ryan Smyth.  Jovanovski feels the pressure and he has been out on the ice for over a minute and is getting tired.  Jovanovski shoots the puck high and off the glass.  A defenceman for Edmonton jumps up in the air and the puck nicks his glove and continues on down the ice just over the centre red line when another Edmonton player picks up the puck, which is still in the neutral zone.  Would you call this a hand pass because it hit the glove of the Edmonton defenceman?

The answer is a straight NO!  The Edmonton defenceman made no clear hand passing motion, the puck simply deflected off of his glove and went to a team-mate.  Since the player made no distinct hand pass motion the play would be allowed to continue.

Pass to Yourself?

Another situation that confuses some fans is when a player bats the puck out of the air to himself.  This is not a hand pass because players are allowed to pass the puck to themselves with the glove.

Example:  Corson is cutting across the ice when the puck comes to him at eye level.  Corson catches or hits the puck out of the air with his hand and bats or throws the puck a couple of meters ahead of him.  If a team-mate picks up the puck then the play would be called and a face-off would take place at either the spot where Corson batted the puck or where the team-mate received the puck (which ever position penalizes Corson’s team more – puts the puck closer to their net).  

However, Corson now picks up the puck and continues to skate down the ice.  This is legal because Corson passed the puck to himself and not a team-mate.  Another way to relate to this would be to look at a player kicking the puck with his skate forward to his stick.  This is entirely within the rules and the play would be allowed to continue.


So next time you are watching a game and you feel the urge to yell at the linesman or referee to call a hand pass, hold your tongue for a second. Take a good look and see where the pass originated; where it was picked up; whether or not possession or control came into play; whether there was motion; etc., etc. Then remember that the official has to make his call in a split second and has to take everything into consideration.

Also, next time people in the stands around you question the calling of a hand pass, you can now sound like an expert.