04/01/2014 11:32 AM
Saturday was a special night for Tom Caron.
The one-time Pirates broadcaster joined a select few members, becoming the 18th person to be elected into the Portland Pirates Hall of Fame on March 29.
“I’m honored, humbled, I was shocked when Chris [Knoblock, Pirates' Director of Communictions] gave me the call,” Caron said. “To get there without skating a shift is pretty good.”
The Portland Pirates Hall of Fame began in 1999 as a way to honor individuals who had played a significant role in Pirates’ history, both on and off the ice. Since Andrew Brunette, Byron Dafoe and Olaf Kolzig were inducted in 1999, 14 others had been inducted before Caron, with Jeff Nelson becoming the 17th member in 2013.
Not only did Caron get to have the honor of joining a group with the likes of Barry Trotz, Olaf Kolzig and Tom Ebright, he got to do it at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in his hometown of Lewiston, a place that holds special meaning to him.
“The first pro game I ever saw was the Maine Nordiques play here in the NAHL back in 70-whatever and going to high school games,” he said. “That’s where my passion for hockey began building. I also found out I was a lousy skater, I had to find another way to get into the game and I found a way to do that. My mom worked at the snack shack selling french fries for ten years here, so yeah, the place means a lot to me.”
Caron was able to call a few games in the Colisee early in his career, some when he was with WGME-TV and even a preseason game for the Pirates during that first season. But being back in the Colisee so many years later, Caron was amazed at how much the arena has been improved.
“When they told me I’d be having a reception at the Baxter Lounge I was like, ‘Wait, where’s the lounge, across the street?’” he laughed. “This would have been a great arena in the AHL 25-30 years ago. Now you’re in Toronto, Chicago, I get all of that, they’ve moved on, but this is a terrific facility. Who would have thought they would have the Division III National Championship here? They’ve done a great job.”
Caron joined the Pirates’ ranks in their inaugural season in 1993-94, leaving his post as a TV sports anchor and moving into the front office for the Pirates, taking on duties as the play-by-play announcer and Director of Communications. The first year was a whirlwind as the Pirates won the Calder Cup in 1994.
“The first year, I was employee number five and it went from five guys in an unfinished front office to 15,000 people on Congress Street for the parade,” Caron said. “That’s pretty amazing.”
Though the thought of how quickly the team captured the city was an amazing thing, Caron is not completely surprised that they did.
“I was here at Channel 13 and the Maine Mariners had been here a long time and had a great run until they moved to Providence,” he reminisced. “We don’t have a team for a year, and 92-93 was a tough year. I think that’s when people realized how much a team like this means to a city and a region like this. I think the current ownership and the current management, going back to the Civic Center last year, have done a great job keeping that tradition alive. To me, next year, moving back into Portland, there will be some of that same excitement because you haven’t had a game there in a year and we went through that 20 years ago. You’re going to appreciate it when it comes back.”
Tom Ebright brought the Pirates to Portland from Baltimore back in 1993, giving the area the pro team they had been missing. Ebright left a lasting impression on Caron for his fierce passion.
“A lot of guys have the money to do this and not the passion. A lot of guys have the passion to do this, but not the money—most of us fall into that category. Tom had both and it was a rare combination.”
Ebright would even provide analysis for Caron on occasion. One time, in his excitement, Ebright jumped up and accidentally unplugged the broadcast equipment during a playoff game.
“You can’t yell at the owner,” Caron laughed. “If he was an intern, I’d be screaming at him, but I was like, ‘Tom, I’m going to plug this back in.’ He’s still missed. None of this is here, none of this happens without him.”
Caron built other lasting relationships with the Pirates as well. As his career has taken him away from Portland, Caron has kept in touch with members of the Pirates from his time with the team, even to this day.
“The guys on that team it has still always stayed special to all of them, as it has for me,” he said. “Whether I’ve run into Sergei Gonchar at the Garden between periods, or like I said, Olie Kolzig. I saw Byron Dafoe a few years back at the AHL All-Star game in Portland, and it’s like it happened yesterday when you run into those guys. Last year, the Major League Baseball winter meetings were in Nashville and I wound up going out with Trotzy like three times and we’re halfway in the appetizer and we’re talking about Gross Miss Conduct int he penalty box and the Dynamite Lady and Cream Corn Wall night.”
Another connection he made is still with the Pirates today, behind the bench.
“I was looking up and down the roster looking for connections because there’s a few kids I’ve called in the Hockey East since I left, the Beanpot guys. I saw [John] Slaney was here as an assistant and I got a chuckle out of that because he’s a great kid.”
Slaney, now an assistant for the Pirates, was a defenseman for the Pirates in those early days as he was a first-round draft pick by the Washington Capitals in 1990. Caron still has a picture of Slaney from those days that used to hang in his office.
“I actually just found it in the basement. He won’t be happy it was in the basement,” he chuckled. “It’s this huge poster we had blown up. It’s Slanes jumping in the air after a game-winning goal, the stands are erupting. It was up on my wall in the office forever.”
Caron also remembers the first time Slaney returned to St. John’s as a player that first season.
“That first year when we made our maritime trip, we went to New Foundland, what were the St. John’s Maple Leafs, it was his homecoming, Bobby Orr coming back to Causeway Street and everybody wanted a piece of Slanes. He’s a special player.”
Caron was more than just the broadcaster for the Pirates in those early days, however. Aside from calling games, Caron was responsible for the team’s first website, portlandpirates.com, and was the writer and producer of the film, “No One Left to Beat,” which recapped the Pirates championship season in 1993-94.
In 1995, Caron moved on, joining NESN where he still works today, hosting their Boston Red Sox pre and post-game shows with Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice and Tim Wakefield. He also does play-by-play for NESN’s television coverage of the Pawtucket Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs, as well as their Hockey East telecasts. But the Pirates are still special to him and the reason is how much of a connection he has with the people in southern Maine.
“There’s a community here with the fans and the players and the broadcasters, we all connect in a way that, I don’t think is happens in the majors, but I don’t think it happens everywhere. I think this a special area, not just because this is my hometown, this is such a great hockey town. The hockey passion from Lewiston down to Portland is amazing and its really cool that his arena, the city has been a part of this now and that they’ve been able to keep that intact, because this is where I grew up loving hockey and I know most of the town is like that.”