It was a typical sight, for fans of the Montreal Canadiens, to see Georges Vézina between the pipes for their team from it’s second season and into the early 1920’s.
After all, the Chicoutimi Cucumber had played in every NHA and NHL regular season game (328), and post-season game (39) since joining the Canadiens fifteen seasons prior.
But in November of 1925, that changed forever.
Vézina had reported to training camp, as usual, but felt ill after an exhibition game against the Victoria Cougars on November 18.
He lost nearly 35 pounds during training camp, and was running a fever of 102. Doctors diagnosed it as a flu virus, and recommended bed rest.
Vézina still made his start for the Canadiens home opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates on November 25.
The game began as usual, but during the the first period Vézina, was suffering from chest pains and left the ice at the end of the fist period bleeding from the mouth.
He reportedly collapsed in the Canadiens dressing room but returned to start the second period.
Vézina collapsed again on the Mount Royal Arena ice before the period began and, after a short delay, left the game.
He returned to the dressing room, sat in his corner and took off his pads for the last time.
Vézina went home and saw his doctor, J-E Dube, the next day. The Canadiens iron-man was diagnosed with tuberculosis and told that his lungs were in dreadful condition.
Dr. Dube told Vézina that his chances for survival were slim and recommended that he go home to Chicoutimi to rest.
Vézina listened to his doctor’s orders, but first made a final visit to the Forum on December 3.
There, in the dressing room, he saw his equipment laid out in the corner, as it always was, by trainer Eddie Dufour.
Team manager Leo Dandurand noticed tears rolling down the goalie’s cheeks. Dandurand placed a hand on Vézina’s shoulder and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you, Georges?”
“Yes, Leo. I would like to go home now. And I would like to take my Montreal sweater with me, the won I wore in the Stanley Cup finals in ‘24.”
Dandurand tracked down the sweater and Vézina tearfully said good-bye to his teammates for the last time.
The Canadiens manager then made a statement to reporters.
“Georges is gone and I doubt if hockey will ever know his like again. He has been a great credit to professional sport. He was a great athlete and a wonderful gentleman.”
The Canadiens paid Vézina his full salary ($6,000) for the 1925-26 season, despite only playing part of the first game.
Vézina returned to his home in Chicoutimi and died on March 27, 1926 at age 39.
Close to 1,500 people crammed into the cathedral in Chicoutimi for his funeral and over 800 Catholic masses in Montreal and Chicoutimi were devoted to Vézina’s memory.
The Montreal Standard referred to him as the "greatest goaltender of the last two decades" in their obituary.
Later in the year, Dandurand and fellow Canadiens owners Louis Letourneau and Joe Cattarinich donated the Vézina Trophy to the NHL to honor their departed goaltender.
Georges Vézina Facts and Figures
- Inaugural member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, elected in 1945.
- Member of the Canadiens first two Stanley Cup winning teams (1916, 1924) and appeared in three other Cup finals.
- Was the first goalie in the NHL to record a shutout on Feb 18,1918 and was the first goalie credited with a shutout.
- Referred to as the "Chicoutimi Cucumber" for his cool demeanor on the ice.
- He was also known as "L'Habitant silencieux" (the "silent Habitant"), a reference to his reserved personality. He often sat in a corner of the team's dressing room alone, smoking a pipe and reading the newspaper.
- Contrary to urban legend, he never had 22 children. That came from a boastful story relayed to the media from Dandurand.
- Vézina had two children, Jean-Jules born in 1912 and Marcel Stanley, who was born the night the Canadiens won their first Cup.
- His 328 consecutive games was a record that stood for over 30 years.
- Gained the attention of the Canadiens when he led his amateur club to a shutout victory in an exhibition against the Canadiens.
- Led in GAA seven times in his career and finished twice five times.
- Played wearing a toque (which can be seen on the photo of him on the Vézina Trophy) and made use of his large stick for blocking shots. He also didn’t learn to skate until his late teens and started playing goal in his work boots.
- Was known to play without gloves…ouch!
- Ranked 75th in The Hockey News 100 All-time Greatest Players
- The city of Chicoutimi renamed their hockey arena the Centre Georges-Vézina in 1965
Georges Vézina’s Career Stats
Sources for this article:
- Jenish, D'Arcy (2008), The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory, Doubleday Canada, ISBN 978-0-385-66324-3
- McFarlane, Brian (2008), True Hockey Stories: The Habs, Prospero Books, ISBN 978-1-55267-714-8