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Kaiton Set for Broadcast No. 3,000

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Michael Smith

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When Chuck Kaiton broadcast his 2,900th game in Feb. 2012, I penned this long piece on his career. The story still applies today, only the numbers are different.

With Kaiton poised to call his 3,000th career professional hockey game on Wednesday, sat down to chat with the Hall of Fame broadcaster to discuss his favorite moments from his illustrious career. As is typically the case, he had plenty of stories to tell, displaying an encyclopedic knowledge of the game and the details within. We’ll start by tossing you a softball – what is your favorite moment from your career?

Chuck Kaiton: Well, obviously Game 7 against Edmonton. There are two things that I remember: I remember Fernando Pisani’s chance. I think with a little over three minutes left he had a shorthanded chance, and Cam Ward made a great save on him. It was 2-1 at that time, as you know. And then, of course, when Justin Williams scored into the empty net and everyone knew they would win the Cup. That would have to be the highlight, obviously, of all the years that I’ve done the games. It doesn’t compare. It’s way above making the playoffs for the first time, for example.

That whole Game 7 scenario. It was great with the fans standing up for the whole game. That would be it. Other than the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, what were some memorable playoff moments for you?

Kaiton: A couple in Hartford that stand out for me. Game 7 in 1986 at the Montreal Forum, and also Game 6 in that series after they had beaten Quebec in three straight (in the first round). The Whalers had not made the playoffs since 1980, and there was a little dry spell. In ’86, they beat Quebec. The format in the first round was a best of five, and they swept Quebec in three straight. When they played Montreal, I’ll never forget Kevin Dineen beating Patrick Roy. He walked around Larry Robinson and scored a goal to send it into a Game 7 in Montreal. In Game 7, it was a 1-0 game until a little over a couple minutes to go. The Whalers tied it up, but then Claude Lemieux scored at 5:55 of overtime on Mike Liut, kind of weird goal. So that Game 7 stands out in my mind from a Hartford standpoint.

Since we’ve been in North Carolina, what stood out to me was beating the Devils in ’02 that first round, and then playing three Original Six teams. Beating Montreal, and then Toronto, and then the Detroit series, that was also a highlight for me. 2,999 games down, and the vast majority have been regular-season games. What stands out from that crop?

Kaiton: Obviously my first game in Minnesota was a thrill, even though we lost it 4-1.

The 11-0 win against Edmonton in February of ’84 when people didn’t believe the scoreboard. The AP (Associated Press) and UPI (United Press International) used to be the only way of getting the story real quick, and when they wrote the story, the UPI editor actually said, ‘This has got to be a mistake.’ So he transposed the score and got it wrong. He just assumed that it had to be Edmonton 11, Hartford 0. So there’s a good one. (Ed. note: This New York Times print of the UPI report seems to be correct, but a mistake could have very well existed prior.)

I’d have to say in the regular season for the Hurricanes, there have been lots of big nights for me. Just to see guys like Ronnie Francis and Rod Brind’Amour. Ron Francis played his 1,500th game as a Hurricane. That was a big game for me. I like being just a small part of other guys’ careers and just seeing some of the great players that have played for organization. Those are the games, to me – I know they are kind of obscure to a lot of other people – but I know they were meaningful for people like Roddy and Ronnie.

The first time we made the playoffs in North Carolina – that would be a highlight. You do that many regular-season games, you don’t think there are a lot of important games until you stop and think about them. To me, it’s all about getting into the playoffs and creating those kinds of memories. Take us back to game one and that moment. What was it like to be calling your first game for the Hartford Whalers?

Kaiton: The reason I counted all the broadcasts is because I really feel that every broadcast is important, whether it’s a preseason game, a regular-season game or a playoff game. I think that you have to do your best job all the time, no matter what. So my first game in Minnesota was kind of overshadowed by my first broadcast ever, which was in the middle of September of that ’79-’80 year. I had the thrill to broadcast with Gordie Howe. He was the color man. He was hurt at the time, so they paired me with him. He was my boyhood idol, obviously, growing up in Detroit.

I remember a lot of details from that game. We were at the Springfield Civic Center. It was a 5-5 tie against Pittsburgh. I remember a guy – look this up – named Maynard Freeman Schurman who was a kid from the Maritime (Prince Edward Island), scored with like five seconds to go. We were down 5-4 and he tied the game. So the game was even a real, exciting game, you know?

Losing 4-1 to Minnesota didn’t really thrill me, even though it was my first regular-season game. But, to me, I have more memories of working with Gordie Howe on my first broadcast. Subsequently after retiring that season, he used to do a show with me called ‘Gordie Howe Talks Hockey’ as part of our broadcast. To me, that was the cream of the crop working with him, especially in my first broadcast. I had to pinch myself. And he elbowed me in the head before the game started and everything. From day one, you’ve kept hand-written notes of each game in books. With 2,999 games in the books, what number book are you on?

Kaiton: I think it’s 40 or 41. It’s a steno notepad, and I have my own hieroglyphics. Every broadcaster has their way of documenting as the game’s going on because a lot of guys don’t have scorers or spotters with them. I just basically put the guy’s name and then in brackets I do the assists by number. So it’s just a shorthand way of writing it down as I’m doing the game. I’ll note the time of the goal and whether it’s power play or shorthanded. And then I’ll write a little note next to the goal for replay purposes how the goal was scored if I think I’m not going to be able to remember – a doorstep tip-in, a wraparound, something like that I’ll jot that down real quickly too.

I’ve kept all those books. The biggest thing I’m proud of is being with one team. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often anymore in broadcasting. I was lucky because I never had any control over this at first, but I was always hoping that I would stay with the same organization for my entire career. That’s the goal, and as a kid, I looked up to people like Al Kaline with the Detroit Tigers or Gordie Howe, who did play his whole career before he came to us, with the Detroit Red Wings. I was always hoping that I could work for the same organization all these years because I think there’s something to be said about it. All the broadcasters that I ever idolized seemed to work for one team, or if they didn’t, they were certainly known for it, like a Vin Scully or an Ernie Harwell. They made their mark with one team, and that’s what I always wanted to set out to do. And so far I’ve been lucky to be able to do that. You’ll do game No. 3,000 on Wednesday. What’s after that? Do you have 4,000 in you?

Kaiton: Yes. Well, I hope so. I hope I live long enough to see another Stanley Cup and just still be good enough. My idols are Bob Miller and Bob Cole. Both guys who are in 70s and still going strong. I’m in my low 60s, so I’m a spring chicken compared to those guys. Rick Jeanneret is in his late 60s and still going strong in Buffalo. Those are the guys I look up to. As far as my faculties stay stable, and people keep enjoying or somewhat enjoying what I do, and the people that I work for want me to work, I’ll continue to do it.

60 is the new 40, so I’ll be 42 in January.

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