By Mark Lichtenfeld

Most people reading this column could care less about the nuances of officiating. What they really want is to peruse the OS analysis about various issues and important matters which will help them and/or their kids negotiate their respective ways to successful careers.

This is where OS excels. By utilizing the finer points of officiating and the obvious requirement of rulebook expertise and application, and disseminating this to the Let’s Play Hockey community, the OS reader thereby becomes educated, confident and a general asset to society.

This applies to high school students, beer league lumberjacks, and especially low-level JV coaches.

Let’s take the application of the hand pass rule as an example. You know the rule. It’s when a puck hits or deflects off a player’s glove, slides along the ice to a teammate outside his or defensive zone, and then the entire rows of spectators and team benches scream out “hand pass!” in some kind of weird collective unison.

Here’s the USA definition of Hand Pass:

Rule 618 | Handling Puck with Hands

(b) A player or goalkeeper shall not be allowed to “bat” the puck in the air, or push it along the ice with his hand, directly to a teammate unless the “hand pass” has been initiated and completed in his defending zone, in which case play shall be allowed to continue.

Pretty clear, huh? A player cannot bat or push the puck directly to a teammate unless the whole thing happens in the defensive zone.

So when a defenseman blasts a clearing attempt off the side boards and the puck deflects off a bad partition of glass, glances off a teammate’s glove in the same defensive zone and then wobbles directly to another teammate at the red line, this is a hand pass and immediate stoppage of play.


Ninety-nine percent of the hockey community assumes this is a hand pass. And they assume wrong.

Okay, you high school juniors preparing for the SAT or whatever college-bound tests are now in vogue. Here’s the correct way to handle this issue straight from a senior official of 33 years and an attorney licensed in two states since 1985.

The fact that the puck deflected off a player’s glove is not relevant. According to the USA Hockey rule, the puck must be batted or pushed to a teammate.

To bat, or to push, is a verb. Meaning, there must be an intended action and result.

Here is the Webster definition of “bat” as a verb: “To strike or hit with or as if with a bat.” So now let’s see what we have. Bat means to strike or hit. Push is obviously an intentional act. And to strike or hit likewise requires intent or some kind of action on the part of player. These definitions are not disputable, and require what we call in the legal world, mens rea, or an intentional undertaking of criminal intent and/or action.

So back to our hand pass analysis. To initiate a hand pass means that a player intentionally uses his or her hand to move the puck in a way which demonstrates intent or knowledge that what he is doing is illegal under the rules. A deflection off the glove or a puck striking the glove of an unsuspecting player who makes no intentional movement of his or her hand, and has no idea where the puck is heading post-deflection, does not meet the clear definition of a hand pass under the rule.

Nobody knows this. Because nobody analyzes this. Which is why you and your kids read OS.

Now, OS can appreciate that this exact play happens all the time, gets whistled down as a hand pass, and the entire world doesn’t have any issues with the call.

OS’s response, and the retort of all you kids in high school, college or law school should be, So What?

If USA Hockey intended the hand pass rule to include unintentional deflections off a glove, then the rule should have been written that way. You’ve heard of activist courts of law. Well, we are not activist referees. We go by the clear wording of the statute at hand. And under the rule as promulgated by the governing body, bat or push means intent.

Bottom line, be that 1% of officials who understand the rule, as well as English grammar.

And be that top student-test-taker who’s going to wow his or her professors and teachers by engaging in a top-tier analysis which establishes mental greatness.

After all. That’s why you read this column every month in Let’s Play Hockey.

Questions and comments can be sent to, via Twitter @OSpeaking or through the Let’s Play Hockey Facebook page