Canadiens Honour new Hall of Famer Rogatien Vachon
At age 71, Rogie Vachon is still the coolest guy in just about any room he enters.
On Thursday night, the former goalie was honoured at the Bell Centre, dropping the puck for a ceremonial opening faceoff between Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty and Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar.
Vachon still looks like a million bucks — much more than he ever earned during any of his 16 NHL seasons — with what grey and white hair he has left slicked back and his trademark moustache. Even his given name, Rogatien, is so cool, although he said during a first-intermission interview that there’s nobody still alive who calls him that.
“When I was playing they called me something probably worse on some nights,” Vachon said with a smile. “But everybody calls me Rogie.”
Rogatien Vachon of the Montreal Canadiens steps off the ice during practice at the Montreal Forum circa 1960’s in Montreal. Denis Brodeur / NHLI via Getty Images
During his playing days, Vachon was known for his jet-black hair and wicked sideburns. He had style. He also stopped a lot of pucks despite being only 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds and next Monday he will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto along with Eric Lindros and Sergei Makarov. Lindros is 43 and Makarov is 58, so the wait for a call from the Hall was a long one for Vachon. Thankfully, not as long as it was for Pat Quinn, who will be inducted into the builder’s category posthumously on Monday.
Vachon had given up on ever getting into the Hall when the call finally came from Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald this summer, saying: “Congratulations, you made it.”
“Made what?” Vachon responded at first.
The Canadiens added Vachon to the Ring of Honour at the Bell Centre during Thursday night’s pre-game ceremony.
“They have so much class,” Vachon said about the Canadiens. “Looking up and seeing that in over 100 years there’s only like 46 people in there. So I’m very proud of that. It’s going to be there forever.”
Vachon’s life could have been a lot different if Ken Dryden hadn’t arrived in Montreal in the spring of 1971, winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after playing in only six regular-season games. Vachon, who had been part of three Stanley Cup teams with the Canadiens, asked to be moved and was dealt to the Kings, where he would spend seven seasons. He also played for the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins before retiring after the 1981-82 season with a 355-291-127 record, 51 shutouts and a 2.99 goals-against average.
When asked if he ever thinks about how his life might have been different if Dryden never arrived in Montreal, Vachon said: “Yeah … absolutely. Those things happen. When Kenny came in, he wins the Cup and he’s the MVP of the playoffs. I could have stayed in Montreal as the No. 2 goalie at the time and win maybe three or four or five or six Cups more. But I was still young and I decided it’s time for me to move on, go to another team. I didn’t care where I was going, I just wanted to be a No. 1 goalie. I was very lucky. I wound up in Los Angeles and had a lot of great years.”
Former Montreal Canadiens goaltender Rogie Vachon signs a Stanley Cup replica at a sports collectibles show at Centre Pierre Charbonneau in Montreal, Saturday, October 25, 2014. Phil Carpenter / Montreal Gazette
At his size, Vachon wouldn’t even be able to play in today’s NHL. He said he wouldn’t even get drafted. In The Goalie Issue of The Hockey News this month, Ken Campbell notes that the smallest No. 1 or 1B goalie in the NHL last season was the New York Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak at 5-foot-11 and 181 pounds. Campbell adds that Halak was the only goalie to play at least 20 games who was less than 6 feet tall. The average NHL goalie last season was 6-foot-2½ and 203 pounds. The Canadiens’ Carey Price is 6-foot-3 and 236 pounds.
Vachon noted that the game was totally different when he played and goalies had to stand up and play their angles since wingers normally kept to their own side of the ice. Today’s game is more side to side and goalies need to be able to move like that. Vachon added that everything really changed in 1986 when Patrick Roy arrived with his perfected butterfly technique and led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup as a rookie, much in the same way Dryden did 15 years earlier.
Just about all of today’s NHL goalies have Dryden’s size — he was 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds — and use an updated version of Roy’s technique.
Vachon wasn’t the biggest or the best goalie to play in the NHL, but he was certainly one of the coolest.
He still is.