The way Tripp Tracy tells the story, the Hurricanes were on a West Coast trip and he and Chuck Kaiton were at one of finer eateries in Santa Monica, Calif.
Kaiton, the radio voice of the Canes, and Tracy, the team’s TV analyst, had ordered calamari when Tracy noticed someone staring at them from a nearby table. More so, staring at Charles, as Tracy likes to call Kaiton.
“George Clooney and Julia Roberts, as I recall,” Tracy said. “Charles was eating the calamari so fast and they kept looking at him. I told him, and with some of the squid still hanging out of his mouth, he goes, ‘Every time we’re in L.A people think I’m a movie star.’ ”
Tracy can’t tell the story without laughing. It also says a lot about the Canes’ longtime announcing crew: television play-by-play man John Forslund, Tracy in the booth as analyst and Kaiton handling the radio broadcasts.
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After all the years, all the games, all the travel, they still enjoy each other’s company. Their longevity – they’ve been together since 1998 – is impressive. But a part of that longevity is the ability to work together, accept each other, care for each other.
And, yes, tell stories about each other and at times needle each other, like when Forslund does his dead-solid-perfect Kaiton impersonation.
“It can get crusty,” Forslund said, smiling. “We’ve spent a lot of time together, probably more time together than with our families in the season, so it’s difficult.
“Then again, it’s not difficult because we’re like brothers. Brothers have a scrap every once in a while, make up. We’re like professional brothers that way. We travel around, we have a lot of fun. I believe you have to have fun at what you do. This thing can really drag you down if you take yourself too seriously. Some people sometimes might look at us like we’re crazy but we have a lot of fun together and play off that.”
Kaiton, 64, started calling games on radio in the late 1970s, when the team was the Hartford Whalers. Forslund remembers listening to Kaiton’s calls when he was a freshman at Springfield (Mass.) College, then later met Kaiton when Forslund worked for the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League.
I believe you have to have fun at what you do. This thing can really drag you down if you take yourself too seriously.
Canes announcer John Forslund
Forslund, 54, joined the Whalers in 1991 as P.R. director and radio analyst and later became their TV play-by-play man. But when the Whalers were relocated to Raleigh in 1997 and became the Hurricanes, Forslund almost didn’t come.
A tough two years
Forslund auditioned with the Boston Bruins, hoping to succeed Fred Cusick, who was retiring after a long run. But Jim Rutherford, then the Hurricanes’ president and general manager, convinced Forslund to take Carolina’s TV job.
“I was told we would do all the games,” Forslund said. “We did 29 the first year. They threw me on the radio to give me something to do.”
The Canes made the jaunt to Greensboro for “home” games the first two seasons while the new arena in Raleigh was being completed.
“I call that the ‘13 oil changes,’ ” Kaiton said. “That’s how many I had in those two years. Those two years were tough.”
Forslund was doing more TV and in the second year had a new partner in the booth – a Harvard man, at that. Tracy, a former goaltender for the Crimson and in the minor leagues, was brought in as TV analyst after Billy Gardner left for the Chicago Blackhawks.
“They brought him in as a young guy to grow with the market – that was the goal,” Forslund said. “He had to learn how to mature and he had to professionally mature, and those two things are hard to do. He’s done a remarkable job getting through all that but it took awhile.
“He had to understand, on outside it looks like an easy job, especially for former player who might said, ‘Oh, man, what do I have to do? Just throw head sets on and comment on the game.’ But it takes a few years to get all that, and he’s done a good job to get where he’s at.”
Tracy, 42, quickly bonded with Forslund and Kaiton. In Greensboro, there were afternoons spent at the Jack Astor’s restaurant before games, talking over the telecasts. Tracy said he and Forslund also attended a Journey concert together in Greensboro, getting to know each other better. Colleagues, they became friends.
“I can talk to those two about the important things in my life,” Tracy said. One of Tracy’s good friends, Mike Ferrucci, is a former Harvard lacrosse star. Ferrucci gave Forslund a red tie, saying it made Forslund look presidential. Forslund, in turn, often wears the tie and said he will have it on for the Canes’ opener this season.
That’s just one of the many stories the three can tell. Each has a special meaning to them.
“The common thread for us is we’re all passionate about hockey but care about each other,” Tracy said.
Dream come true
Not many teams have a threesome on TV and radio quite like the Canes’ guys. The L.A. Kings’ TV people, Bob Miller and Jim Fox, and radio man Nick Nickson have been together since the early 1990s.
Forslund, Tracy and Kaiton all are in the final year of their contracts, but hope to return.
“We’re like players. We don’t control our own destiny,” Kaiton said. “Hopefully we’re here for a long time together.”
On the June night in 2006 when the Canes won the Stanley Cup, Forslund was working with Kaiton on radio. The national network was handling TV, and Forslund had his son, Matt, with him in the booth while his wife and daughter sat in the stands.
In the final seconds, after the Canes’ Justin Williams scored an empty-net goal to clinch Game 7 and the Cup, it was tough holding back the tears.
“It was a dream come true,” Kaiton said.
Forslund still calls it as surrealistic as it was emotional. So much flashed through his mind.
“Because of everything we’d been through with the move,” he said. “There were many times the two of us shared our feelings about the move. It was difficult. It was where I grew up. We left a lot of family. My wife was eight months pregnant with our second child. I had to hold it together.”
Tracy watched the game from a suite but soon joined Forslund in the Canes locker room for the celebration that lasted into the wee hours. It’s just one of many stories than can be told.
Like the one about Kaiton and a round of golf at the Country Club of Detroit, Tracy’s home course.
“The locker room has a no-cell phone policy and everyone speaks in low tones,” Tracy said, laughing. “So there’s Charles, getting a call, his voice booming in the locker room. You know Charles’ voice. They had to go over to him and politely tell him …”