"He's a slippery little eel." Another beauty from the great Chuck Kaiton.
— Jon Stout (@JonStout89) March 29, 2015
I recently sat down with a hockey broadcasting legend. Chuck Kaiton has been with the Carolina Hurricanes for 35 years. He started broadcasting with them at game one of the new Hartford Whalers franchise in 1979.
He has never missed a game. He was recognized for his skill and contributions to the sport of hockey in 2004, wining the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award.
In this, Part Two of our conversation, I asked Chuck some pointed questions about his team, the Carolina Hurricanes.
* If you missed Part 1 of the interview wit Chuck, click here:
“We came out flat, we didn’t start on time”
THW: Specifically about this Carolina Hurricanes team, I’d like to ask you about the frequency this season wherein after games we’ve heard the coach or some of the players say, “We didn’t start on time,” “We came out flat,” or “We lacked energy or effort.” As a fan and a member of the media I don’t understand.
CK: (Laughing) I don’t either. I mean if you’re asking me, that’s something that doesn’t compute either, other than there are some factors at times – physical factors – and I don’t know this for a fact because I’ve never played the game at this level, but there are going to be nights where you just don’t have it, where your mind is clicking in but the body isn’t or vice versa.
I think a lot of people take for granted that because these guys make millions of dollars they’re going to be perfect every night, especially since they’ve only got eighty-two games a year. Well, they’ve got families and they’ve got other things going on. It’s just like people who go to work in any other profession.
Now if you’re asking me personally I still don’t understand that because I can’t approach my job that way.
But there are some physical limitations, things we may not know about that can inhibit a guy from playing his best. The old adage is, “when you’re on the ice, you’re not hurt.” Well 99% of the time at this stage of the season, guys are hurt to some degree, but they’re still pressing through it and trying to play.
And sometimes it doesn’t look like they have that synergy. Hockey being the team game that it is, you need everybody pulling together. And sometimes a line will be going and another line won’t be, or your goaltender is not playing as well. You’re relying on everybody to be on all eight cylinders every night, and I don’t think that’s possible. That’s my answer to that.
THW: It seems like the ‘Canes have been stuck in this vicious circle of not being bad enough to get a franchise-changing draft pick, and not good enough to make the playoffs for several seasons now. Have you seen other teams in that situation in your thirty-plus years, and if so, how did they break out of it? Also, if you had Ron Francis’ job as the general manager, what would you do to break out it?
CK: You break out of it by drafting judiciously, developing young players, getting better with numbers, picking up the odd free agent that you think character-wise can come in. Like a Jay McClement or like Manny Malhotra. You’ve got to pick character guys as free agents.
Ron Francis has an all-encompassing job. He has a budget he has to follow; he’s got to make character decisions on players as well as hockey decisions on players. So he has to look at a lot of different levels to a player, and that’s his job, that’s what he’s got to do.
But the biggest thing that I see, and it’s not just with this franchise, it’s with any that has struggled, is the time factor. As you go through and don’t make the playoffs five and six years, people are saying, “We’re impatient, we wanna make them next year.”
As a general manager, you have to avoid the temptation of trying to “quick fix” things. At the same time, you have to try to convince a fan base that is paying good money, “You have to stay with me. I’ve got a three or four-year plan. It’s gonna work, and here’s what I believe.” And I think Ron Francis has that, and he’s just got to sell that to people.
That is what I would do as general manager. I’d say, “Listen we’re gong to build through the draft. We may make some mistakes but believe me I want character guys with accountability.” And I’d have to do some things to show the fans that I’m not just blowing smoke at them. Convincing fans that you have a plan and are not just sitting there satisfied with a non-playoff team is crucial.
And there’s the time factor, which is really hard to pin down. The Hurricanes have gone from no playoffs to Eastern Conference Finals, to no playoffs to Stanley Cup Finals, to no playoffs to the Stanley Cup win. For this fan base it’s been very erratic. It’s been feast or famine.
THW: Speaking of winning the Stanley Cup, was that your most memorable moment broadcasting for the Hurricanes?
CK: Yes, for the Hurricanes side it was, yes.
“9,393 days of frustration, and on the 9,394th day of NHL existence, the Carolina Hurricanes—the Whaler organization ’til ’97—have won the Stanley Cup!”
THW: How about with Hartford?
CK: With Hartford it would have been ’86 when we went two rounds and should have beaten Montreal in the second round and lost it in seven games. Because that year that Canadien team went on to win the Stanley Cup, and I’m convinced that if the Whalers would have won that series, they would have won the Cup in ’86.
So those are my two favorite teams. It’s funny they are twenty years apart, 1986 and 2006. But the Stanley Cup here was great because people jumped on the bandwagon; they enjoyed every minute of it. Even North Carolinians who never saw a hockey game in their life got turned on by it. It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years now since that happened.
Best sport in the world?
THW: Finally Chuck, you say hockey is the best sport in the world. Why do you feel that way?
CK: First of all, bar none it is the best spectator sport in the world. I just hearken back to when I was seven or eight years old when my Dad first exposed me to the game. I was lucky growing up in Detroit where I could see Gordie Howe play and go to the old Olympia. I was lucky – my Dad could’ve worked for the symphony or something in the arts and I may not have gotten into sports like I did. But he really influenced me when we’d watch games on television or listen to games on the radio or go to Olympia, I just fell in love with hockey.
The fan reaction, the speed of the game, the elegance of it and how talented these guys are. People don’t realize how great athletes hockey players are doing things on skates and having to master that art before they can even do anything like have the courage to go into a corner and take a hit. There’s no out-of-bounds in hockey, you can’t run away from physicality, and you can’t run away from intimidation. All of those things combined with the beauty of the game make it what it is. I fell in love with it when I was five or six years old so to me it’s the greatest sport in the world.
THW: Chuck, thank you for your time.
CK: My pleasure, I’ll look forward to the article.
*The Hockey Writers thanks Chuck Kaiton for his time.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.