Ron Caron, the fiery and brilliant long-time hockey executive known as “The Professor,” has died. He was 82.
Caron worked as a scout and assistant general manager under long-time GM Sam Pollock and helped build the Montreal teams that won Stanley Cups in 1971, 73 and four straight titles from 76-79.
The Gatineau, Que., native was named general manager of the St. Louis Blues in 1983 and spent more than a decade in the position, acquiring stars like Brett Hull and Doug Gilmour to build a franchise struggling to survive into a competitive team.
He died Monday night in Montreal, a Blues team spokesman confirmed Tuesday morning. No cause of death was released. Caron suffered a stroke in 2003 and had been living in a nursing home in recent years.
“He was a very hard worker,” said former Canadiens captain Jean Béliveau, who knew Caron as a player and later worked with him in the team's front office. “He was always passionate about everything he did.”
Long-time Montreal broadcaster Dick Irvin said Caron was totally consumed by the sport.
“He was just so intense when it came to hockey,” Irvin said. “If you listened to him, you learned a lot.”
Despite a limited budget under owner Harry Ornest, Caron's Blues reached the Campbell Conference final in 1985-86, taking the Calgary Flames to a decisive seventh game.
Former Blues forward Bernie Federko – now a team broadcaster – said Caron will be missed.
“He put together a heck of a hockey team,” Federko said.
Caron was considered by many to be an emotional cyclone at the rink. Federko said when the team wasn't playing well, he would pound the walls and tear out telephones. Often the players couldn't understand what Caron said through his thick French-Canadian accent, but they always knew what he meant.
Federko recalled the day after the Blues fell behind 3-1 in a playoff series against Chicago in the 1980s. Caron sent coach Jacques Martin out of the room and gave the team a tongue-lashing.
“We didn't know what he said, but he showed with his emotion that he didn't like how the team was going.”
The Blues won the next game.
Federko added that Caron also had an impressive memory.
“He remembered when he met you, when you scored your first goal, and he could do that for everybody,” he said. “It was just amazing.”
Caron was known for remembering every player's birthday and his ability to rhyme off any player's statistics from the top of his head.
He was a legend in NHL press boxes, a non-stop talker whose booming voice could be heard from one end to the other.
In 1990-91, The Hockey News voted Caron executive of the year as he helped guide St. Louis to a 47-22-11 record. The 105-point total was the third-best season in club history.
Caron graduated from the University of Ottawa, where he majored in arts and philosophy. He got his nickname from his brief time as a teacher at St. Laurent College.
He became a part-time scout for the Montreal Junior Canadiens in 1959-60 and became head scout for the team in 1968-69.
Caron coached the Montreal Voyageurs of the American Hockey League for 60 games the following season and in 1970-71 was named head coach and general manager.
In 1973-74, he was named head scout for the Canadiens and became director of recruitment and player personnel in 1978-79.
He made his name as a general manager with the Blues, who had a 438-405-127 record and won two division titles during his time with the club.
“On behalf of the St. Louis Blues, I would like to express how saddened we are to hear about the passing of Ron Caron,” Blues president of hockey operations John Davidson said in a statement. “Mr. Caron was extremely passionate about the Blues and the city of St. Louis. He will truly be missed.”
The Blues made the playoffs in each of Caron's seasons as GM.
He hired Jacques Demers as coach in 1983 and three years later gave Martin his first NHL head coaching job.
He was replaced by Mike Keenan in 1994, but returned as interim GM in December, 1996. He held the post until current GM Larry Pleau was hired in June 1997.
Former Canadiens player and GM Réjean Houle recalled being scouted by Caron and Claude Ruel when he was 15.
“It was on his recommendation that the Canadiens drafted me in 1969,” said Houle. “He lived and breathed hockey.
“He was very perceptive and he was always a big baseball fan, especially the New York Yankees.”
The Canadian Press