Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean apologized for his careening remarks about Quebec-raised referee Francis Charron in the wake of Montreal's Game 3 victory over Tampa, one in which the officiating certainly was on the dicey side. In bringing up Charron's ethnicity, MacLean stepped into a hornet's nest involving one of Canada's distinct cultures – not to mention the only NHL team left in French-Canadian territory.
Was Charron's goalie interference call, the one that nullified a Tampa Bay goal in a 1-1 contest, a poor one? Sure looked like it:
But this was not a matter of malice on the ref's part. If anything, it was one of indecision – and that speaks to Charron's inexperience, not his home province.
Charron is working his first Stanley Cup playoff tournament and naturally he's going to have some jitters. The Bell Centre may not have the same aura as the old Montreal Forum, but it's still packed to the rafters with raucous Habs fans. This easily could have happened to Charron in Philadelphia, Chicago or Boston, too. Unfortunately, it happened in Montreal and MacLean's gut reaction was to point to the commonality between the home team and the official.
I'm sure this is cold comfort for Lightning fans, who saw their Bolts swept out of the post-season last night, but look at Game 3 pragmatically instead of conspiratorially: If Charron was on the take, he would have been much more confident with his call. Even in that case, I'm sure director of officiating Stephen Walkom would have seen right through the ruse. Charron is just 30 years old, getting in his first NHL game in 2010: Do you really think he would risk what could be another 25 years of employment in the best league in the world to help a team win a first-round series against an opponent missing its starting goaltender and a veteran winger who had recently been arrested, after one of the most popular players in franchise history sulked his way to a trade out of town?
It doesn't add up. Charron blew a call, most likely because he's a young ref who is still learning what life in the pressure-cooker is like. He may have officiated Memorial Cup finals and ECHL title games in the past, but the NHL playoffs are a different beast and mistakes are magnified. There would still be people shaking their heads at the call if his name was Frank Clark, but no eyebrows would have been arched – and that's not on Charron, it's on the folks jumping to conclusions.