Ron Mason, who guided the Bowling Green Falcon hockey program to national prominence in the 1970s, has died.
The 76-year-old Mason collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack in Haslett, Michigan early Monday morning, the Lansing State Journal reported.
Mason led the Falcons to three Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season and three CCHA playoff championships before he was named Michigan State’s head coach in the summer of 1979. He coached the Falcons for six seasons.
The Falcons won those CCHA regular-season titles in 1976, 1978 and 1979, and playoff titles in 1977, 1978 and 1979. BG advanced to the NCAA playoffs for the first time in 1977 and then finished third in the NCAA playoffs in 1978.
The Falcons finished 31-8 in 1978, and then were 37-6-2 during the 1978-79 season, the 37 wins being an NCAA record at the time.
Mason’s 36-year coaching career ended in 2002 when he retired as the head coach at MSU. He retired as the winningest coach in NCAA history with a 924-380-23 record.
He held the record until it was broken by former Falcon head coach Jerry York, who was named BG’s coach when Mason headed to MSU. York, currently the head coach at Boston College, broke Mason’s record in 2012.
Mason coached the Falcons from 1973-79, posting a 160-63-6 record overall and a 63-24-3 record in the CCHA.
“His death was unexpected. It’s hard for me to comprehend because I had just recently reconnected with coach by phone three days ago,” former Falcon defenseman Ken Morrow told BGSUHockey.com during a telephone interview Monday afternoon.
Morrow, known for his trademark beard, played four seasons at BG under Mason. He was the first All-American in Falcon history when he received the honor in 1978. He was the CCHA’s player of the year in 1979. He was a first-team All-CCHA pick in 1976, 1978 and 1979, and a second-team selection in 1977.[pullquote]“If there’s a Mount Rushmore of college hockey, he’s in the group. He did an incredible job at three different universities and had an outstanding collegiate playing career at St. Lawrence University. He will be sorely missed.” -Jerry York[/pullquote]
Morrow currently is the director of scouting for the NHL’s New York Islanders.
“It’s really difficult,” Morrow said. “He was a tremendous, tremendous coach to play for, a man who combined knowledge of the game, passion, intensity, and he still had that to this day. You saw it every day you were around him and talked to him.
“I felt like he could have gone behind the bench today and still coached the last time I saw him. The hockey world has lost some of its cornerstones the last few days with the passing of Gordie Howe, and now Ron Mason.”
Morrow had a magical run in 1980, winning an Olympic gold medal in February with the United States hockey team in Lake Placid, N.Y. After the Olympics, he signed with the Islanders and helped them to a Stanley Cup that May. He was a regular on defense on the Islanders’ Cup-winning teams from 1980-83.
During the experience, he played for two more of the greatest coaches ever — Herb Brooks with the U.S. Olympic team and Al Arbour with the Islanders.
When Morrow was inducted into the Islanders’ Hall of Fame in 2011, the team asked him if there was anyone special he wanted to invite to the ceremony. Morrow’s guest list included Mason.
“It was such an honor to have him there,” Morrow said.
The two reconnected after their respective careers had kept them from staying in touch on a more frequent basis. They recently shared an eight-hour car ride to Chicago to see Mason’s grandson play hockey.
Morrow, who was born in Flint, Michigan, chose to play at BG at a time when the Falcon program was still building and the CCHA was still fighting for respect nationally.
“I really owe so much to him. He was one of the first coaches to really give me that opportunity to play at a high level,” Morrow said. “I was so sold on the coach himself and the school. I came away from my visit there knowing that’s where I wanted to play. It was a great decision for me.”
Mason was loved and respected by his players because he allowed them to grow and make mistakes on and off the ice.
The legendary coach also reminded his players to always be aware of their behavior on and off the ice because they never knew who was watching. Mason, himself, was always well dressed and well spoken.
“He wasn’t a guy who hovered over the players,” Morrow said. “You knew what was expected and demanded. I later came to find out that’s what the great ones did, like Al Arbour, Herb Brooks, Ron Mason, who I played for.
“They demanded certain things. There was no gray area. You knew what was expected. You knew you were going to have push yourself past what you thought you could do. That’s what brought out the best in each player, and he taught us life lessons.”
“He recruited character, he recruited characters, and he was a character himself,” Byron Shutt, a member of Mason’s first recruiting class at BG, told BGSUHockey.com Monday night.
The 6-foot-1, 193-pound wing had an impressive mix of size and skill. He totaled 50 goals and 87 assists in 136 games during his four seasons at BG from 1974-78. He also had 366 penalty minutes, 229 coming during his final two seasons. His toughness led to legendary fights especially against arch-rival Ohio State.
“Ron was a great motivator, and he knew how to bring out the best in everyone. He really pushed you to be your best. He was an outstanding coach in every way,” said Shutt, who still is running his own landscaping business in Bay Village, Ohio, on Cleveland’s west side. He also lives in Bay Village. “Hockey was everything to me.
“Ron gave us a chance to grow up and make mistakes on and off the ice, and as players and as people,” Shutt added. “You knew where the line was with him, and you knew what the expectations were. He knew how to motivate, and it wasn’t always yelling. He yelled judiciously, and he didn’t have to yell a lot because everyone respected him. We had a great group of guys with different personalities, but we all wanted to win for the team, and we wanted to win because of the respect we had for Ron.”
Shutt came to BG from Toronto. He close the Falcons over Rensselaer.
“Bowling Green was close to home for a lot of us, and the hockey people in Canada knew about Bowling Green,” Shutt said. “All of us wanted to get a scholarship to play college hockey. Bowling Green was a great campus, a great small town and a great hockey town. It felt like home to me, and Ron was a great recruiter. He really sold me on BG. I knew that’s where I wanted to go. I had a great four years there. The Ice Arena was a great place to play. It was so loud in there every game.”
Mason coached MSU from 1979-2002, leading the Spartans to an NCAA championship in 1986. He became the school’s athletics director when he retired in 2002. Mason hired Rick Comley as his successor, and Comley guided MSU to another national championship in 2007.
“If there’s a Mount Rushmore of college hockey, he’s in the group,” York told BGSUHockey.com during a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “He did an incredible job at three different universities and had an outstanding collegiate playing career at St. Lawrence University. He will be sorely missed.”
Mason also coached at Lake Superior where he led the Lakers to the NAIA championship in 1972. His teams played in the NCAA tournament 23 times.
He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013. He was born Jan. 14, 1940 in Blyth, Ontario. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1964 from St. Lawrence, where he was a three-year letterman.