Ron Mason, the legendary former coach of the Michigan State Spartans, has passed away at the age of 76.
Mason won 924 games behind the bench at Michigan State, Bowling Green and Lake Superior State. He guided the Spartans to the national championship in 1986 and again as athletic director in 2007. But his impact on college hockey went well beyond wins.
During his time with Lake Superior State, Mason was a driving force behind the creation of the CCHA conference. The CCHA would later name its tournament trophy after the coach and became a major conference before it was disbanded in 2013 during college hockey's latest big shakeup. That saw Michigan State join the new Big Ten conference, with Mason's old Bowling Green and Lake Superior squads heading to the WCHA.
"He looked out for Michigan State, but he also looked out for what was best for college hockey," said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels. "He had a broader vision and he cared about all the programs."
Some of the bigger names that went through East Lansing during Mason's tenure include Duncan Keith, Ryan Miller, Anson Carter and John-Michael Liles. That sort of talent helped Mason rack up those 924 career wins, which was an NCAA record until Boston College's Jerry York surpassed him in 2012.
"He was exceedingly passionate about college hockey," Daniels said. "He believed in college hockey before the NHL really embraced the idea that players could come from there."
Numerous coaches and hockey execs played for Mason over the years, from George McPhee and Brian MacLellan at Bowling Green to Danton Cole and Tom Anastos at MSU. Damon Whitten played for Mason at Michigan State, but he also currently holds the title of coach at Lake Superior State, where Mason first made an impact in 1971-72.
"Tremendous players have come through here," Whitten said. "But the coaching here has also been outstanding, from Jeff Jackson and Rick Comley to Frank Anzalone. Coach Mason was the first; he started it all."
Whitten remembers seeing the softer side of Mason during his playing days, as Mason's grandsons Travis and Tyler Walsh would sometimes ride in the team bus. Mason's son-in-law was Shawn Walsh, who coached one of the best NCAA teams in history, the 1992-93 Maine Black Bears. Whitten also believes he was given a great leg-up by Mason, as were all his teammates.
"He was the most detailed and prepared coach I ever played for," Whitten said. "It made us better players and better people, too."
All told, Mason coached 36 seasons in the NCAA and was elected into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013. He was originally from the small Ontario town of Blyth.