Stanley Cup and Vézina Trophy winner
David Bier photo, from Gazette files
Former Canadiens goalie Rogie Vachon, the best netminder not in the Hockey Hall of Fame, turns 62 today. I’ve argued long and loud that Vachon should be enshrined in the Hall, and a number of others have tried to organize campaigns to have the most famous citizen of Palmarolle, Que., inducted. (You’ve not heard the end of this…)
In the meantime, Happy Birthday, Rogie! Read on for more on at least one Habs Inside/Out writer’s first Canadiens hero.
Defending the Canadiens’ net with defenceman Ted Harris.
A replica of Rogie’s Habs mask.
Rogie, second from left, two years ago at a charity golf tournament.
Courtesy Paralysis Project of America
Inside/Out reader/contributor Robert Lefebvre’s superb page devoted to Rogie.
His comprehensive bio at hockeygoalies.org
A profile at Joe Pelletier’s excellent legendsofhockey.net
And a Montreal Gazette column I wrote about Rogie and the oversight of his not being a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, published Sept. 12, 2005.
Rogie Vachon in a classic late 1960s team portrait.
David Bier, from Gazette files
HABS GREAT ROGIE VACHON NOT IN HOCKEY SHRINE – YET
Rogatien Vachon, perhaps the finest little goaltender in the modern era of the National Hockey League, turned 60 Thursday, and these bones creaked just a little more loudly that day, the years having silently crept up.
Many will argue that Vachon, all 5-foot-7 and six decades of him, is the best goalie not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The former Canadien won three Stanley Cups during 41/2 seasons in Montreal and shared the 1968 Vezina Trophy with Lorne Worsley. He played a huge role in popularizing hockey in Los Angeles, the most popular King until – some say including – Wayne Gretzky, and acrobatically backstopped Canada to international victory as his team’s most valuable player in the inaugural 1976 Canada Cup.
I won’t make the shrine argument, disqualified from the debate for this reason: Rogie Vachon was my first hockey hero.
I wore his Canadiens and Kings jerseys, cheered quietly for Detroit and Boston when he played his final four seasons there, collected his bubblegum cards and worshipped him to the point that our kitchen cupboard sometimes held a half-dozen boxes of Honeycomb, in the hope that I’d finally extract his plastic Post cereal marble from the sugar-dust goodness.
It was a banner day, if heartbreaking for my dentist, when I did.
Vachon was the first and only hockey player to whom I addressed a fan letter, pleading that he not allow the Canadiens to ship him back to the minors, as was rumoured in 1967-68, his first full season. I received a handwritten reply, assuring me – truthfully, as it turned out – that he was in the NHL to stay.
And he was the only athlete in any sport over whose trade I cried, devastated at 14 when he was shipped to Los Angeles in 1971 for Denis Dejordy, Dale Hoganson, Noel Price and Doug Robinson.
The author’s plastic Rogie Vachon marble, a Post breakfast cereal premium found in the late 1960s at the sugary bottom of a box of Honeycomb.
Those four then played a paltry 53 games combined for the Canadiens, while Vachon went on to become a marquee attraction during seven seasons in L.A. He was the first King to have his number retired, 20 years ago last January.
The calendar says your heroes grow old, but your memories beg to differ. Heroes never lose that step; their reflexes never lose their edge. Vachon still wears muttonchops and wide lapels. He’s still cat-quick in leather pads and a wide-eyed mask.
I still recall his first NHL save – called up from the minor-league Houston Apollos, he stoned Detroit legend Gordie Howe on a Forum breakaway.
“All the shooters look alike to me,” he said in the clipping, the first in my scrapbook.
Through 16 seasons, Vachon played 795 regular-season games, 206 for the Canadiens, with a goals-against average of 2.99. In 48 playoff games, 19 for Montreal, he had a 2.77 average.
Today, he’s an ambassador for the Kings, having served as the team’s president and general manager.
He returns home every year to his birthplace of Palmarolle in the Abitibi region, where the arena bears his name.
This summer, townsfolk assembled a tidy Vachon museum in the arena lobby, a tribute to his career and the fame it brought the village.
One of the displays featured Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, who idolized Vachon and wished in a framed letter that his boyhood hero also was enshrined.
Broadcaster Dick Irvin has been a member of the Hall’s selection committee for a dozen years, and says that Vachon has been nominated in the past.
“He’s certainly a worthy candidate,” said Irvin, who’s puzzled why 1920s and ’30s goaler Lorne Chabot, a pioneer with six clubs, also has been overlooked.
Anyone can nominate any player, builder or official with a simple letter to the Hall, better if it’s supported by a strong case for election.
All letters are circulated to the 18-member selection committee. Should a name be backed by even one member of the committee, a file is prepared, distributed, then discussed and voted upon at an annual meeting.
With 75 per cent support of the 18 voters, a candidate is elected.
“I’ve seen one- or two-line letters from somebody and the guy winds up being elected,” Irvin said. “I’ve seen letters signed by 25 or 35 people, many ex-players, and the nomination isn’t even tabled (for discussion).
“If you were to look out there at people who should be in the Hall, there are not many who aren’t in there.”
Vachon might yet be elected, or he might remain just an impressive statistic in an era of goaltending giants. If he is not bound for the shrine, he can at least take comfort in having fared better than a namesake.
“The day Vachon was traded to L.A., a stray cat turned up on our porch and we took it in,” Irvin said. “We named him Rogie, but he was pretty sick.
“A couple hundred dollars in vet’s bills, and he still didn’t make it.”
Nominate a player, official or builder for the hall by sending a letter and supporting documents to Jim Gregory, Selection Committee Chairperson, Hockey Hall of Fame, BCE Place, 30 Yonge St., Toronto, Ont. M5E 1X8.