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Hockey players are amazing 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.
Hockey players are not allowed to 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 are allowed to bat pucks out of the air with an open hand and must be the first player to play that puck with one exception.
No Hand Pass Allowed
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.
In the NHL and international competition, you are allowed to bat the puck out of the air to a teammate as long as you are in the defensive zone. In lower-level leagues, this is not allowed. Playing the puck with your hand to a teammate will be whistled down for a hand pass.
Hands Alone Can’t Score
Another rule to note is that a player may not use a hand, even if that hand is just batting a puck, to score an opposing team. These goals will be called back in the same way that a goal would be called back for kicking the puck into the net. However, unlike kicking the puck, a hand pass is not a video reviewable play in the National Hockey League.
Just last season, we saw a controversy arise due to a hand pass in an NHL playoff game. 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.
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.
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 or bat down an in air puck. This is a skill players practice just like anything else and is just another aspect of this very beautiful game we call hockey.
It’s worth noting that while hockey gloves are well padded and protect the hands from pucks and stick 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.