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Hands-On Policy

Unlike soccer, hockey rules allow players other than goalies to use their hands on the puck

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ /

While soccer fans know that no player can touch the ball except the goaltender-quick pause here to say, "Go Sounders!" in the MLS title game Sunday - there are times when NHL players can use his hands on the puck. 

And there are times when it most definitely not allowed.

Let's start with who and what is allowed. NHL goalies, of course, use their hands to defend shots with a stick-hand "blocker" glove and other hand "catch glove." They can "freeze" the puck or stop play by covering up on the puck or keeping it in the catch glove to get a referee's whistle and a subsequent nearby faceoff. There are exceptions when and how a goalie can freeze a puck, but basically if the attacking offensive team is threatening to shoot or control the puck, the goalie can use any means necessary to freeze the puck, including his hands. 

There can be proper hand use for NHL skaters (the hockey term for everyone on ice but the goalies, who, believe it, are excellent skaters at the pro level and superior at lateral movement). Players are permitted to stop or "bat" a puck in the air with his open hand but must immediately place or knock it down to the ice. This might throw off a soccer fan new to ice hockey, but it can be useful to control an errant pass or lobbed puck provided the puck is immediately dropped for stick control. 

The player can even push the dropped puck along the ice with his hand and, according to the NHL "Official Rules" book, "the play shall not be stopped unless in the opinion of the referee, the player has directed the puck to a teammate."

Here's where the details are important: If the hand pass is between two players in their defensive zone (goal end), then play is not stopped. If the hand pass is performed by teammates in the offensive zone (other team's goal end) or neutral zone (center ice), then play is whistled dead and there will be a faceoff. The exact faceoff circle is determined by the referee to make sure there is no advantage to the offending player's team.

One more no-no from the NHL rulebook for all players, defenders or attackers: "If the player 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." 

Hard stop. Rewind to Game 4 of last spring's Western Conference Final. In overtime, with the San Jose attacking in the St. Louis zone, Sharks forward Timo Meier swatted a deflected puck in mid-air toward the goal and teammate Gustav Nyquist, who then passed to Eric Karlsson for an overtime winning goal. The Sharks won 5-4 and took a two games to one lead in the series that determined which team advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. 

As it turns out, no hand pass was called on the play by the on-ice officials. The play, according to last season's rulebook, was not reviewable for video replay officials. The Blues, from goalie Jordan Binnington to GM Doug Armstrong were understandably demonstrative and upset. 

Every sports fan knows calling a hand pass or penalty or inbounds/out-of-bounds is easier with slow motion and multiple replay angles. This missed call-NHL executives admitted the same the next day-occurred in lots of traffic and players to the side of the goal with all four officials (two referees and two linesmen) in typical positions. 

The Blues went on to win the series and the Stanley Cup. Along with admitting the error the next day, the NHL revised its "Official Rules" book to now include video replay on hand passes as an option for a coach's challenge to prevent just this sort of "black-and-white" play that resulted in an offensive goal.  

For his part, St. Louis coach made a rare direct route to the locker room immediately after the Game 3 overtime loss to encourage his players to not complain in media interviews when the doors opened. Like fans watching the game, he saw his players slamming sticks and yelling at the officials. 

"Gotta move on," Berube told his team. "We all gotta move on from it and get ready for Game 4. Really that's all you can do."

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