Remembering Hockey’s Legendary Ron Caron

January 10, 2012 | Ed Frankovic

If you ask anyone who’s been around the NHL for the last 20 plus years who they thought the most entertaining general manager would be, in the press box, I’d wager that at least nine times out of 10 the answer would be former St. Blues GM Ron Caron. Sadly news came down on Tuesday that the legendary hockey executive passed at the age of 82 in Montreal.

Nicknamed the “Old Professor,” Caron was a longtime assistant GM for the Canadiens and helped build the Montreal teams that won six Stanley Cups (1971, 1973, and four more from 1976 to 1979). Caron was hired as GM in St. Louis in 1983 and spent over a decade in the position.

“Mr. Caron was extremely passionate about the Blues and the city of St. Louis,” president of hockey operations John Davidson said in a statement. “He will truly be missed.”

To say he was extremely passionate about hockey is a HUGE understatement. As a Washington Capitals team statistician from 1987-1997 the opposing teams general manager would routinely sit in the row in front of us in the old Capital Centre press box and our crew was always excited when the Blues would come to town because of Caron. The French-Canadian was a joy to watch while his team was playing. He’d frequently yell or get up and start talking out loud to seemingly noone about his team, or usually about the referees. His bald head would get bright red and his words were a mix of barely decipherable French and English. I’ve always thought I’ve been tough on the zebras, but anyone in hockey will likely tell you that the “Old Professor” was their number one detractor. He was pure entertainment!

There have been a number of great write-ups on him tonight (see Kevin Allen’s post) so I’d thought I’d share some first hand stories that many of us who have been around the Capitals for so many years still talk about to this day and laugh about hysterically.

As it has been chronicled, Caron was obsessed with hockey and specifically the referees. One night team statistician Mike Herr and I were having dinner with former NHL goalie and Bruins scout Marcel Pelletier when Caron entered the Capitals press room. “Watch this Eddie,” said Pelletier. Marcel immediately caught Caron’s eye, since they no doubt had known each other for years, held up the game notes, pointed at the part where the referee was listed (back then there was only one referee) and said towards the Blues GM, “Can you believe that you have this guy calling the game tonight?!”

With that Caron IMMEDIATELY reached into his suit jacket pocket, pulled out a sheet of paper and with his head getting bright red started reading the statistics on the road team’s record when this official was calling the game and how bad he’d been when officiating Blues games. He proceed to blast the referee up and down for a couple of minutes to Pelletier, Herr, and I before leaving to grab his dinner. After Caron was out of earshot, Pelletier said quietly, “If he spent that much time now on his team instead of the referees they’d win the Cup!” Of course Caron already had 6 Stanley Cup rings from his days with the Canadiens but that never stopped his desire to win one for St. Louis.

Towards the end of his career as GM for the Blues, St. Louis came to Washington to take on the Capitals in late November of 1993. Caron was getting up there in age and there was talk that he was getting close to retirement. Despite that fact, he was still his usual self in the press box talking at anyone who would listen and often gesturing up at NHL supervisor Bryan Lewis, who was sitting one row behind us in the Capital Centre tiered press box, about the referee.

Back in those days, NHL budgets were very tight and our stats crew performed the job on an old COMPAQ 2 computer that was over 25 pounds and didn’t even have a hard drive! We had used that thing since the mid 1980′s and kept the ice time, face-offs, hits, and turnovers for the coaches and General Manager David Poile. Herr and I would travel with the team on the road in the playoffs and after games we’d have to lug that thing with us on the team bus and through the airports. Dale Hunter and several other players would often crack jokes about the big white box that we’d have to carry around for the Caps to keep track of important metrics.

In 1993 we were still using the COMPAQ 2 for the stats as the game transpired (the following season we got rid of that boat anchor when assistant coach Tod Button gave us his old laptop after the team purchased him a new one). The Capital Centre was the first arena, in December of 1973 when it opened, to have in house video, called the “Telescreen.” Replays would be shown on it by the in house staff as well as videos and other information. By 1993 it wasn’t the greatest of pictures but it was still used to show the game and highlights.

So it is a close contest between the Blues and the Caps in the third period and Caron has not been happy with the officiating all game, what else is new, right? Anyways, what happens next leads to complete chaos in the Washington press box. Blues defensemen Rick Zombo catches Caps forward Randy Burridge with a vicious elbow and the Caps forward stays down on the ice. The referees get together to confer and just then the in house staff shows a replay of the hit. Keep in mind, that replays of that such were considered a no-no back then. So as the replay is shown Caron looks around and just as Zombo hits Burridge the entire game staff in the first two rows of the press box grabs their right elbow to signify a penalty. Caron, who was looking back at Lewis already yelling about the play, hears the crowd gasp at the replay, watches the renactments from those in the press box, then spots me behind the computer, and goes absolutely bezerk.

He comes storming over yelling at me from one row down “You can’t show the replay! What are you doing? That is not allowed!” and a bunch of other things that I couldn’t make out because it was half in English and half in French. I am absolutely STUNNED as to why he is yelling at me but suddenly it dawns on me that he thinks I AM the one responsible for running the replay on the Telescreen when all I’m simply doing is statistics for the coaches on this severely outdated equipment. So naturally I start laughing at him and this enrages Caron even more. He just goes nuts, yelling and screaming “Quit laughing at me funny boy! You can’t do that. I know people in this league, I’ll have you fired!’  I continue to laugh because I am thinking if he really knew how inept this computer we were using was he’d have realized that there was NO WAY that I could have possibly shown the replay on such a technology challenged piece of equipment. That computer didn’t even have its own hard drive, we had to boot it from floppy discs each game!

Anyways, Caron continues to yell at me for what seems like forever and Caps PR man Dan Kaufman is kneeling next to me saying “Don’t say anything Eddie, just be quiet” over and over but I can’t stop laughing and it doesn’t help that Herr is howling and the other stats man, Scott Scheuler, is hiding behind the television we had next to us for replays in tears from laughing so hard. Eventually Caron calms down and goes back to his seat. Zombo gets a major for elbowing and the Capitals erupt on the power play to win 5-2. Caron is not happy and I don’t make eye contact with him at all as he leaves the press box for fear of another attack from him.

After the game ends, I’m a little bit uneasy with what Caron said because I knew he was a man of extreme stature in the NHL and was a little bit worried about my job. So I go up to Lewis, who has always been nice to me, and ask him what he thought of the situation. Lewis, who no doubt had seen more than his share of Caron meltdowns, with his trademark big smile, said with a laugh, “Don’t worry Eddie, I saw the whole thing, you are fine. Of course it didn’t help you that the whole first two rows of the press box grabbed their elbows when they showed the replay though!”

After that game, we never saw Caron in the Capitals press box again since he did retire after that season. Year after year, not a single Capitals-Blues game goes by without Herr, Scheuler, or Caps Press Box announcer John Beamer bringing up that famed Caron incident or talking about how he kept track of the won-loss record for his team with each NHL referee.

I am sure if you went around the NHL talking to executives, players, officials, and media personnel every one would have at least one Ron Caron story. He was a man who loved hockey and wore the game on his sleeve like no other. Personalities like him don’t come around too often and he has been missed since he retired. RIP Ron Caron.

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The Washington Capitals have recalled defensemen Tomas Kundratek from Hershey. Here is the full press release from the Caps:

The Washington Capitals have recalled defenseman Tomas Kundratek from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Kundratek, 21, recorded eight points (six goals, two assists) and 14 penalty minutes in 21 games with Hershey this season after being acquired by Washington from the New York Rangers for Francois Bouchard on Nov. 8, 2011. Prior to the trade, Kundratek collected two assists in seven games with the Connecticut Whale.

The 6’2”, 200-pound defenseman registered 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) and 42 penalty minutes in 70 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack during the 2010-11 season.

Kundratek made his professional debut for the Wolf Pack on April 23, 2009 in Game Five of 2009 Atlantic Division Finals versus Worcester. The native of Prerov, Czech Republic, was drafted by the Rangers in the third round (90th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Kundratek, who will wear number 36 for Washington, will participate in Washington’s morning skate at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

COMMENT: Clearly defensemen Mike Green is still injured and won’t play against the Penguins on Wednesday. With Jeff Schultz already up with the team and presumably healthy it would appear that either someone else is hurt or another roster move is pending.

 

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Paddy Link Says:

    What a great story – I’m so happy you shared it with all of us. I just always appreciate your game recaps and all of your history with the Caps. You’re a treasure.

  2. Justafan Says:

    Ed, I worked in the Capital Centre press box as a stringer for the Associated Press and remember the Ron Caron escapades that you mention. It sure was a lot of fun watching this guy in action. He was truly a character. The NHL will miss him.

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