After last week’s incident with injuries to both Florida Panthers goaltenders, the league has decided to revisit the policy around emergency backup goaltenders.   They might want to do the same for on-ice officials.  In the playoffs, the league assigns standby officials for each game.  Not so during the regular season.

Referees and linesmen face injury on a nightly basis, trying to watch the players while dodging sticks, pucks, and other skaters.  From time to time, they get caught up in a hit, clipped with a stick, or hit by the puck. When the injuries are severe enough, the remaining three officials are left to work the remainder of the game.

What happens, though, if the lone remaining referee is also injured?

Sutherland and Charron Down

In Thursday night’s game between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, both referees suffered injuries. Referee Kelly Sutherland was involved in a hit between Boston’s Ryan Spooner and  Ottawa’s Alex Chiasson. While the hit didn’t appear particularly dangerous, it threw Sutherland off balance. He fell awkwardly, his helmet snapping back against the ice.   He was helped off the ice, unable to finish the game.

Referee Francis Charron continued as the lone referee with linesmen Tony Sericolo and Derek Nansen.

Charron suffered an injury of his own in the second.  Standing along the half-boards, he was unable to avoid the puck as Bruins winger Milan Lucic fired it into the zone.  Charron was struck on the left knee.  After a discussion with the medical trainer near the Boston bench, Charron was able to remain in the game

Referee Francis Charron Injured

Referee Francis Charron Injured at Bruins vs. Senators

But what if he wasn’t?

Replacement Referees

The NHL rulebook spells out their contingency plan when officials are unavailable

From Rule 31.11:

Should a Referee accidentally leave the ice or receive an injury which incapacitates him from discharging his duties while play is in progress, the game shall be automatically stopped. If the Referee is unable to continue, the game shall continue using the one Referee, two Linesmen system.

If, owing to illness or accident, one of the Referees is unable to continue to officiate, the remaining Referee shall perform the duties of the ill or injured Referee during the balance of the game. In the event that a member of the League’s Hockey Operations or Officiating departments is in attendance at a game where a spare official is present, he shall have the authority to substitute the injured Referee with the spare official.

If, through misadventure or sickness, the Referees and Linesmen appointed are prevented from appearing, the League will make every attempt to find suitable replacement officials, otherwise, the Managers or Coaches of the two Clubs shall agree on Referee(s) and Linesman(men). If they are unable to agree, they shall appoint a player from each side who shall act as Referee and Linesman; the player of the home Club acting as Referee and the player of the visiting Club as Linesman.

The policy is similar for linesmen, as detailed in Rule 32.6:

Should a Linesman appointed be unable to act at the last minute or through sickness or accident be unable to finish the game, the Referees shall have the power to appoint another in his stead, if they deem it necessary, or if required to do so by the Manager or Coach of either of the competing teams. If no replacement Linesman is available, the two Referees will assist the remaining Linesman with his duties while still retaining their ability to assess penalties when deemed appropriate.

So What Would Have Happened In Ottawa?

If Charron was unable to continue, the league would have looked to the remaining on-ice officials to officiate the game.  Linesmen Tony Sericolo and Derek Nansen would have continued with their linesmen duties in addition to calling penalties.  Both officials are long-time veterans.  Sericolo, a 17-year veteran, has worked 1,083 games, while Nansen has officiated 828 in his 13-year NHL career.

That determination would be made by the NHL’s Situation Room. In addition to their video review responsibilities, the Situation Room also advises on issues like this, where guidance on officiating is needed, based on their collective backgrounds and experience, in partnership with the officials and league management.

Thankfully, Francis Charron was – somehow – able to shake off that Lucic slap shot and stay in the game.  If he hadn’t, though, we would’ve had a very memorable night for Tony Sericolo and Derek Nansen.


Here hoping for a quick recovery for referee Kelly Sutherland and a speedy return to 100% for Francis Charron.  It’s dangerous on the ice. Be careful out there.