MONTREAL - You always heard "The Prof" before you saw him.
Ron Caron's raspy voice would fill the press box if he thought his St. Louis Blues were suffering some injustice on the ice -- whether real or perceived -- and he could entertain you with stories for as much time as you had. He got the nickname "The Professor" for his incredible memory and knowledge of both hockey and baseball, his other sporting passion.
Caron died Tuesday just hours before the two clubs with which he made his mark in hockey -- the Blues and the Montreal Canadiens -- were to play at the Bell Centre. He was 82. Caron had suffered a stroke about eight years ago, after going out for a smoked meat sandwich in Montreal.
"The thing I will remember about him was his passion," said former St. Louis Blues great Bernie Federko, who was at the Blues morning skate at the Bell Centre Tuesday. "No one was more passionate than he was. He wore his heart on his sleeve and you knew what he was thinking all the time. He was either yelling or screaming."
Federko recalled Caron barging into the Blues dressing room and going on an incomprehensible rant when things weren't were going well.
"When he would walk out, we would look at each other and say: 'What exactly did he mean from that?' " Federko said. "But we got the message."
Caron might have thrown the odd chair in a press box, too.
Caron was a scout and then assistant general manager of the Canadiens teams that won six Stanley Cups during the 1970s.
He had an eye for talent and scouted Guy Carbonneau, who would become a Montreal captain.
"He said he scouted me," Carbonneau said with a laugh. "You know how scouts are. If you turn out to be a player, they scouted you. If you don't, they didn't see you."
Caron's work was behind the scenes in Montreal, but he clearly had a huge impact on the Habs.
He was bigger than life in St. Louis, after taking over as Blues general manager in 1983, and Federko credited him with saving the franchise. Caron's ability to identify talent and swing a blockbuster deal built them into a regular playoff contender -- they made the post-season in each of his 12 seasons.
Caron arrived on the scene in St. Louis shortly after the league blocked the sale and transfer of the franchise to Saskatoon. With ownership in flux, the Blues didn't even participate in the 1983 draft.
Harry Ornest emerged as the owner and ran the Blues on a skate-lace budget.
"The Blue were on the verge of moving in '83 when (Caron) was hired and he did a great job of recognizing talent and, with limited resources, he was able to put together a good team," Federko said. "That was one of the reasons they were able to stay there and flourish. Now they've got a huge fan base and one of the reasons is because Ron was able to build the franchise."
In 1988, Caron sent goaltender Rick Wamsley and defenceman Rob Ramage to the Calgary Flames for a prospect with good blood lines. Brett Hull went on to score a record 527 goals with the Blues.
He also rocked the hockey world with free-agent signings, back in the days when an arbiter would reward compensation to the team losing the player. Caron signed forward Brendan Shanahan in 1991 and defenceman Al MacInnis in 1994. The Blues had to send Phil Housley and draft picks to the Flames for MacInnis and defenceman Scott Stevens to the New Jersey Devils for Shanahan.
"He put together a lot of good teams," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, "and they played with the same passion he had."