After coaching 1,387 college hockey games, Ron Mason says he still can't get enough of the sport.
"When I look back at it now, 36 years, I can't believe that I was actually in it that long," Mason said. "I still love the game, I watch it all the time on television and appreciate how it's played, how it's officiated, and how we support it."
USA Hockey on Thursday announced the longtime coach will be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, along with Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Cindy Curley and Peter Karmanos Jr.
"While [Ron] always cared about whoever his employer was, he always put the overall good of college hockey first, as top priority," said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey.
Mason began his collegiate coaching journey at Lake Superior State in 1966, where he started the university's hockey program. He went 129-47-8 in seven seasons and won the NAIA national championship in 1972 before moving on to Bowling Green in 1973.
"I'd have to say being able to get my first coaching job at Lake Superior State and starting their very first hockey team was probably the highlight of my career, because it gave me a chance to prove I could coach, and I wasn't sure I could, and opportunities to move forward, which I did, along to Bowling Green and Michigan State," Mason said. "It got me in the game, and I'll forever thank people like Bud Cooper who hired me at the time."
Mason's success continued at Bowling Green, where he had a 160-63-6 record in six seasons and led his team to the NCAA tournament in 1977 and 1978. In 1979, Mason took the coaching job at Michigan State.
In his 23 seasons there, the Spartans made 19 NCAA tournament appearances, won the 1986 NCAA championship, and went 635-270-69. He retired in 2002.
"Ron Mason was the best hockey coach I have ever met," said Karmanos, the Carolina Hurricanes' owner. "I always admired his work at Michigan State."
Mason was named the American Hockey Coaches Association National Coach of the Year in 1992. He was awarded Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Coach of the Year seven times, won 10 CCHA regular-season championships and 13 CCHA postseason championships. He coached 50 future NHL players, 35 All-Americans, and two Hobey Baker Memorial Award winners (Kip Miller, Ryan Miller).
In 2000, the CCHA championship trophy was renamed the Mason Cup.
"I remember seeing him on the bench at Michigan State for as long as I can remember watching hockey, and it made me a true college hockey fan," Weight said.
Mason finished with a 924-380-83 record, a winning percentage of .696. He retired with the most wins in the history of college hockey, a record that stood until December, when Boston College's Jerry York won his 925th game.
"I sent him a text; I said, 'Win a thousand,' because that's what everybody used to say to me," Mason said. "'Hey you better win a thousand games.' I said, 'It's not about how many games, it's just trying to win the next game.' That's all I ever thought about. I hope he does win a thousand."
From 2002 to 2007, Mason was director of athletics at Michigan State. He's still part of the game as senior adviser for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League.
"The growth of that league and the caliber of play is just phenomenal," Mason said. "I recruited from it when I was coaching at Michigan State and it was OK, but in today's world if you play in that league and you're a decent player, you're going to get a college scholarship. And the people that are surrounding the league and supporting the league, it's a great place for a young player to play today."
Mason and the Class of 2013 will be inducted on a date yet to be announced.
"I think being part of the game is what's so important to me, because it's the people in hockey that make it happen," Mason said. "Whether it's the players, or whether it's the support group or whether it's trainers or equipment people, whoever it is, I don't think you can find a better sport."