What the Ron MacLean debacle says about Hockey Night in Canada

Posted: April 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

Mike Finnerty and I were talking to La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé Wednesday morning on Daybreak about Ron MacLean’s boneheaded comments during the Habs Lightning game the night before and to me the most telling moment came when I asked Lagacé if he thought Hockey Night in Canada had an anti-Montreal bias.

Lagacé said he couldn’t answer the question because he usually watches his Habs game on RDS. He only switched over to CBC on Tuesday because he was having trouble with his cable reception and couldn’t nab the RDS signal. Thanks to that cable glitch, he penned a pointed column titled in English – ‘Are you always a racist, Ron MacLean’.

But the point is that Lagacé watches the games on RDS – like so many Montrealers, both English and French. Many many Habs fans ici are not big fans of Hockey Night in Canada because they don’t feel the show does a good job of covering our team.

And MacLean’s comments, sadly, simply underlined the Ontario mentality that so dominates Canada’s premiere hockey broadcast. MacLean – as you surely know by now – questioned the NHL’s decision to use a francophone referee in game four of the Montreal-Tampa series after another francophone referee, Francis Charron, created controversy by calling off a Tampa goal in game three of the series.

It was an idiotic remark, one that has been soundly trashed by almost everyone in the past 48 hours, including NBC analyst Pierre McGuire and most every former referee still reachable by telephone. By that “logic”, they can’t use anglophone refs in anglophone cities. And let’s be clear here. MacLean did some major back-pedaling afterwards to claim he was making a geographic point – that Alberta refs shouldn’t ref Alberta games. But that’s not what he said. He said it was about French refs. I don’t agree with Lagace that it’s racist. But it is offensive – it suggests that a francophone Quebecer is simply incapable of being professional enough to fairly ref a Habs game.

But there’s no reason to be surprised by all this. Hockey Night in Canada has always had a problem with Montreal and the Habs. In fact, it’s not just the Habs who have a problem with Hockey Night in Canada. In 2012, several Canadian teams complained to the NHL board of governors that they felt that Hockey Night in Canada had a pro Maple Leafs bias.

And it does. The people who work on the show – from Don Cherry to MacLean to the producers – all live and work in Toronto and they appear to suffer from that city’s strange we-are-the-centre-of-the-universe virus. Until a few years ago, you could barely find a Canadiens game on CBC on a Saturday night, unless they were playing the Leafs. CBC finally began airing Habs games – after years of complaining. But the crew just can’t get with the program that it’s a national show that caters to all Canadians not just folks living in southern Ontario.

After Montreal swept Tampa Bay Tuesday night, Cherry arrived on the scene to talk about this and that, but he didn’t bother to talk about the Habs’ achievement. It had me thinking of that moment during a Habs playoff game a few years back, when MacLean asked Cherry to weigh in on the Habs’ performance and Grapes replied – ‘What are you trying to do? Get me in trouble?’ The clear implication was that he can’t talk about the Canadiens without enraging Habs fans. Why’s that? Because he’s a Bruins fan!

Just imagine a national broadcaster of football games in the U.S. that features a cast that all favour, say, the New England Patriots. It’s laughable. It would never happen. But that’s what we have at Hockey Night in Canada and MacLean’s comments about biased Quebec refs is only the latest example of the show’s oh-so-Ontarian perspective.

But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Rogers has paid billions for rights to NHL hockey and they’ll be taking over Hockey Night in Canada next season. It’ll still be on CBC but Rogers is producing it and making all the editorial decisions. One of their first moves was to replace MacLean as host of Hockey Night in Canada with George Stroumboulopoulos and the good news for Habs fans is that Strombo is contrarian enough to be a guy from southern Ontario who just happens to be a hardcore Habs fan.

The other positive is that the guy who runs hockey operations at Rogers is Scott Moore, who was born in Montreal and though he’s lived in T-Dot for eons, he remains a dyed-in-the-wool Habs booster. So I can’t imagine a show overseen by Moore and hosted by the Strombonator will be as anti-Habs as the Leafs-obsessed shows produced by the previous HNIC regime.

But my optimism could be unfounded. Let’s check back in the playoffs next year.

  1. Minz says:

    Interestingly, there’s evidence from research in other sports showing that the home team is favoured by referees, regardless of origin. This appears to be human nature – something that professionalism can’t overcome. So suggesting that the home town referee makes home town decisions may be suggesting that the referee is human, not unprofessional.

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