This Face-Off's Just for Fun—Ron Greschner's Goal Is Not to Get by Model Carol Alt, but Marry Her

updated 04/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

In an ordinary face, the slight blemish developing on her chin might go unnoticed. But on $200,000-a-year top model Carol Alt, the aquamarine-eyed, 5'9½" brunette who at only 22 has graced more than 100 fashion magazine covers, the pimple seems downright glaring—at first, anyway. Yet Carol's exuberance quickly sweeps away any preoccupation with her looks. "We're engaged," she exults. "And that's just what I want to be right now."

The lucky man: Ron Greschner, 28, star defenseman for the ever-struggling New York Rangers. Though he has been sidelined by a back injury much of this season, the romance certainly isn't on ice. They plan to marry—in May 1984 (Carol wants "to be sure"). He's been helping her find serenity in her frazzling, fast-paced model's life; she's been helping him overcome his professional anxieties. Last month, when he played for the first time in 360 days, Carol flew to St. Louis to root as Gresch, showing flashes of his old brilliance, helped set up the goal that won the Rangers a tie. "I sweated more than he did," she says.

They've been giving each other assists like that in the year since they met at Oren & Aretsky, a Manhattan restaurant favored by the sporting crowd. Carol, a Ranger fan, had been getting Ron's tickets to games through a mutual friend, and she was in the place one night when Ron came in. She invited him over for a thank-you drink. Ron declined, having found from his own research that all New York models are "a little flaky," if not also on drugs or booze. But soon he changed his mind, and when her drink turned out to be hot water and lemon, he decided "I liked her right away."

The problem was that Carol was going steady with singer Rex Smith, then in London filming The Pirates of Penzance. So Ron settled for friendship. But when Smith and Alt split a month later—"Rex dropped me," says the ever-frank Carol—Ron made his move. "To hell with Rex," he told her. "Go out with me."

She did, and with other guys as well. But in June Ron took Carol to visit his parents in the remote village of Good-soil (pop. 300) in Saskatchewan. That same month he entered a Toronto hospital for treatment of his back problem (herniated disks), and she called from New York every day. The treatment failed, but the calls cemented the relationship. Four months later Ron, unbeknownst to Carol, asked her father in East Williston, Long Island for her hand. On her return from a European assignment, Ron met her at the airport with a diamond ring. When he brought out the box, Carol cracked nervously, "Is it a dead frog?" But then she accepted it. "I always knew I loved Ronnie, but I fought it," she says. "Now I know he's best for me."

Carol, the daughter of a Bronx, N.Y. fire chief and a former showroom model, had early dreams of becoming a lawyer. After graduating from high school in Old Westbury, Long Island, she enrolled at Hofstra College. While waiting tables part-time during her freshman year, she was spotted by a photographer who gave her names of agencies to call if she ever wanted to model. All she really wanted at that point was to play lacrosse and maintain her A average in school. But a few days later, when a romance with a West Point cadet broke up, she decided a little adventure might lift her morale, and she dug out the photographer's card.

The first time she strode into Manhattan's Elite Model Management, a leading agency, one staffer shouted, "Chain that girl to the chair; don't let her out of here." She quit school and became an overnight favorite with photographers. They love "the contrast of her bright blue eyes and dark hair," says Elite boss John Casablancas. Today she not only commands the top rate ($2,000 a day) from such clients as Albert Nipon, Valentino, Sasson jeans and Montclair mineral water, but also has a contract worth more than $100,000 a year as the model for Lancôme cosmetics in Europe (Isabella Rossellini is Lancôme's U.S. face). Yet even today she's up and prepping for assignments at 6 a.m. "I've never met a girl with so much willpower," says Casablancas. Early on, when she weighed 144 pounds and he told her to drop 20, she lost so much so fast "we had to ask her to put some back on."

Greschner is not that driven. Born in Goodsoil, where his dad sells cars, Ron started skating at 3. At 12, he was working out with much older players whose philosophy, he recalls, was "the littler you are, the harder you get hit." He was 19 when the Rangers signed him in 1974, making him the youngest regular player they had ever taken on. Though his origins seemed light-years removed from New York's glitter, he was soon in the company of assorted models and Penthouse Pets ("Mostly it was just to have our pictures taken," he claims). But on the ice he was displaying the form that quickly had him touted as the finest stickhandler since Bobby Orr and has gained him a salary well above the NHL's $115,000-a-year average. Two seasons ago, with 27 goals and 41 assists, he became the highest-scoring defenseman in Ranger history.

But in an October 1981 game with Toronto, Ron moved to check an opposing player, missed and slammed hard into the boards. Although he stayed in the game—and played 10 more after that—his back bothered him. When he went into a hospital four months later, doctors found damage to two spinal disks. While a spinal fusion operation would alleviate the pain, Greschner fears it would cost him agility. Instead, he chose to prepare for this season by working out eight hours a day to strengthen his back and legs. While he has played only five games so far, he has performed well, scoring a goal and three assists.

Still, the pain persists, and although Greschner insists "I feel I can play 10 more years," some observers are dubious. Says one New York sportswriter: "He'll probably get back into the game, but never as totally as he could if he were younger. The average age of a hockey player is 24."

While Ron works to regain his old form, he and Alt share happy domesticity in her four-room Sutton Place apartment. "If it wasn't for Carol, I wouldn't be back at all," says Ron. In his worst moments, she coaxed him along, telling him, "You can do it if you really want." Though he's opened a restaurant called Sticks with two pals from the Rangers, Ron Duguay and Phil Esposito, hockey remains his chief interest. He skates with Carol at the Rangers practice arena in suburban Rye, N.Y. when the team is out of town, and they work out at a Manhattan club. A declared jock—"As a teenager, I always hung out with guys instead of girls because of my height"—Carol likes Ron's crowd. And while fashion is scarcely Ron's game, he's decided that "the people Carol works with are very nice." Both observe Carol's 11:30 p.m. beauty curfew.

Both, also, have had enough of what she calls "forming-together" time to work out one problem: her eating patterns. Carol sometimes gets ravenous so suddenly that "it's like a Jekyll-Hyde change if I don't get food." She now tries to alert him before hunger strikes—and he no longer pauses to make a long phone call before they head for a restaurant. Carol, for her part, has absorbed some needed cool from Ron: "Sometimes I get so wrought up being brushed, poked and pinned all day—but I know he's waiting for me at 8 p.m." Though less insistent than Carol for lots more forming-together time before marriage, Ron seems willing to wait. "Six months. Eighteen months. It doesn't matter," he says. "What's important is we're together. All the time."

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