Hand Pass in Hockey – Touching the Puck in a Hockey Game

Posted on April 18, 2024 by Dan Kent
catch puck

Hockey players are incredible athletes, and we see so many aspects of different sports while we watch any hockey game. In a single shift, a player may be seen skating, catching a pass off his foot and kicking it back to his stick, and batting a puck out of the air with either his stick or hand. 

The keyword in that sentence, however, is "batting." There is a big difference between catching a puck and batting a puck with your hand, as you will read.

Can you pick up the puck in hockey?

Hockey players cannot catch or throw the puck at any time during a hockey game. Catching a puck with a closed hand can result in a minor penalty for closing your hand on the puck. Players can bat pucks out of the air with an open hand and must be the first player to play that puck, with one exception. 

Suppose a player closes their hand on the puck inside the goal crease. In that case, the official NHL rule is that the opposing team will be awarded a penalty shot.

Can you slap a puck in hockey?

Yes, you are allowed to slap the puck in hockey. As long as your hand does not close around the puck, you can direct it with an open palm or "slap" the puck wherever you'd like, except if it is to score a goal.

Batting a puck is defined as redirecting a puck back down to the ice without losing your hand. Any attempt to carry the puck, even with an open hand, is illegal.

Can you catch a puck in hockey?

Yes, you can catch the puck in hockey and quickly put it down on the ice. As long as you do not close your hand on it, skate with it, toss it to a teammate, or prevent an opponent from getting access to the puck, you can catch it and place it back on the ice.

Suppose you do end up committing one of the infractions mentioned above. In that case, you will typically be assigned a 2-minute minor penalty for closing your hand on the puck, and the other team will get a power play.

hockey helmet

What is a hand pass in hockey?

In the NHL and international competition, you can bat the puck out of the air to a teammate as long as you are in the defending zone. These are illegal hand passes if you are in the neutral or attacking zones. The play will be blown dead if your teammate touches the puck.

In lower-level leagues, hand passes are not allowed, even in the defensive zone. Playing the puck with your hand to a teammate will be whistled down for a hand pass. Suppose a player bats the puck out of mid-air and an opposing player touches it. In that case, the other team will now be able to gain possession of the puck back without it being a hand pass.

Where are the face-off spots for a hand pass?

The faceoff for a stoppage of play due to a hand pass will be decided by the typical last play face-off rules. For example, if a hand pass is blown down right at center ice, the puck will be dropped at center ice. If it is done on the right-hand side of the neutral zone, it will be dropped at the nearest face-off spot for where the infraction occurred in the neutral zone.

Keep in mind, if a player makes a hand pass in the offensive zone and the play is blown dead, the face-off can be brought out of the attacking zone of the non-offending team and into the neutral zone to ensure the team did not gain any territorial advantage from the hand pass.

Can you punch the puck in?

Another rule to note is that a player may not use a hand to score a goal, even if that hand is batting or punching a puck. These goals will be called back like a goal would be called back for kicking the puck into the net. 

We saw a controversy arise from a hand pass in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the 2019 Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and eventual Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues, we saw Game 3 deadlocked at the end of regulation. At 5:23 of overtime, we saw Sharks forward Gustav Nyquist bat a puck out of the air directly into the path of defenseman Erik Karlsson who would score the game-winning goal.

The ref signaled goal, and with a hand pass being non-reviewable, the Blues were sent to the locker room, and the Sharks would take Game 3. The Blues were not happy about this, as one would expect. Here is a video of it below.

Fortunately, the Blues would go on to win the series, and the frenzy did not have to escalate even further had the Sharks gone on to win the series.

It may not be wise to attempt to catch a shot

While hockey players may not be able to catch or throw the puck, there is still a ton of skill and courage needed to put your hand in front of puck-moving anywhere between 30-100 mph at any one time to either block a shot on goal from the attacking team or bat down an in air puck. This is a skill players practice just like anything else and is just another aspect of this wonderful game we call hockey.

It's worth noting that while hockey gloves are well padded and protect the hands from pucks and sticks on the outside, the inside palms are thin material (for seamless stickhandling contact) which means that catching a moving puck will cause, at the very least, a sting. Only the goalies can regularly catch slapshots without getting injured.

Can you touch the puck with your feet in hockey?

Yes, you can touch the puck with your feet in hockey. You can kick the puck to a teammate, from your feet back up to your stick, or even kick the puck out of harm's way.

The only situation where kicks are not allowed is if they are to score a goal. Obviously, with the skate blades of an NHL player being extremely sharp, the league does not want excessive kicking involved. If a player was allowed to kick a puck in, scrambles in front of the net would get quite dangerous.

As a result, if you kick the puck into the net, the referee will waive it off, and there will be no goal.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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