One of the most misunderstood rules deals with the hand pass, even though it 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 teammate 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 head, he uses his hand and passes it back towards Darcy Tucker who has 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 pass.

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).

Keep this point in mind. It doesn’t matter where a person is when he directs the puck with his hand. What matters is where the puck is touched by the receiver. A puck directed by hand to a teammate from the neutral zone to the defending zone is legal. A puck directed by hand to a teammate from the defending zone to the neutral zone is not legal.

Possession & Control (Hand Passes)

Another issue that confuses the majority of the parents, coaches and players is the difference between possession and control of the puck.  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. 

A player has control of the puck if he is touching the puck with his stick or skates and is carrying or propelling the puck in some manner. As soon as the puck leaves the stick, the player no longer has control of the puck, but he is still considered to be in possession of the puck because he was the last one to touch it.  The puck can be shot all the way down the ice and the last person is still considered to be in possession of the puck.

Here is an example:  Paul Kariya is located in front of the Montreal Canadiens’ 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 towards the net with his hand.  The puck hits Theodore in the chest but Theodore was never able to gain control of the puck. In other words, he was not capable of shooting or catching the puck.  It just hit him and then bounced off to Jeff Friesen (a teammate of Kariya).  Friesen was able to shoot the puck into the net.  Does the goal count? 

The answer is 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, not his defending zone.  Secondly, the opposing team (Habs) never gained control of the puck. They had possession of the puck since they were the last ones to touch it, 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 teammate, 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 teammate was to intentionally deflect the puck with his stick into the net after Kariya passed the puck with his hand, the goal would be disallowd because there must be a ‘distinct shooting action’ by the teammate in order for the goal to count.  Even though there is no control just possession from Kariya’s teammate, the goal would not count because the hand pass is still in effect and the puck is therefore illegally in play at that time.  Most Referees will call a hand pass as soon as a teammate of the person passing the puck with his hand touches the puck.  Referees usually don’t wait to see if the player will gain control of the puck and they just call the play dead in order to avoid problems. Everyone seems to be happy with this policy.

Defending Zone to the Neutral (or Attacking) Zone

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

Consider the following: Al MacInnis, a defenceman for St. Louis, has been tripped and is now laying on the ice near the hash marks in his own defending zone with the puck beside him on the ice.  Then with his hand, MacInnis bats the puck forward into the neutral zone where Doug Weight, a teammate, 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).

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 teammate by the red line.  When this occurs the defencemen of the attacking team may try to catch or stop the puck with his hands.  If, after the puck hits his hands it deflects to a teammate, the pass is legal and will not be called a hand pass. Remember, a deflection is not a pass in this instance. 

Example:  The puck is in Vancouver’s end zone and Ed Jovanovski is being pressured by an Edmonton forward, Ryan Smyth.  Jovanovski feels the pressure since 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 teammate.  Since the player made no distinct hand pass motion, the play would be allowed to continue.

Can You 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 teammate 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 teammate received the puck (which ever position penalizes Corson’s team more – puts the puck closer to their net). 

However,  Corson himself picks up the puck and continues to skate down the ice.  This is legal because Corson passed the puck to himself and not a teammate.  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.