Growing up as a kid, I always saw Vachon as the the Los Angeles Kings All-Star netminder with the blank white mask.
Upon paying more attention to the stats on his hockey cards, rather than flinging them against the school walls at recess, I learned that he got his start with the Montreal Canadiens. I later learned the same of Tony Esposito.
In mid- February of the 1966-67 season, the Canadiens were a .500 team. With Gump Worsley injured, and not overly confident in the recent play of Charlie Hodge, Montreal GM Sam Pollock and coach Toe Blake had a decision to make.
Having seen the prodigy’s stellar play during three Apollos games earlier in the season, Pollock made the call for Vachon..
He made his debut against the Detroit Red Wings on February 19. Detroit was a sub-.500 team at the time, but they still had the firepower of Gordie Howe, Norm Ullman, Alex Delvecchio and the up and coming Paul Henderson in their lineup.
Vachon stunned the Red Wings, making 40 saves (his first of the night on a Howe breakaway) and earning the First Star in a 3-2 Canadiens victory.
The rookie stayed on with the big club for the rest of the season, and was called on to carry the team through the playoffs. Vachon did just hat and despite a Cup Finals loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was in the NHL to stay.
He and Worlsey would win the Vezina the following season and go on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1968 and 1969.
Vachon then found himself in the number one roll with the departure of Worsley, but it would just for one full seasons and the start of another.
At the end of the 1970-71 season, Vachon found himself on the bench for the last 10 games of the season and through the playoffs. Ken Dryden had arrived.
Vachon cracked the Canadiens lineup, originally wearing the number 29 and later number 30 before settling on number one. He would be ousted from Montreal when a new number 29 arrived to immortalize the number.
With Dryden now the new goaltending hero of the Canadiens, Vachon knew he wouldn’t see much action in the 1971-72 season. He requested a trade after the first game and soon found himself in Los Angeles, where he shone on the west coast.
As Gretzky did for the Kings in the ‘90s, Vachon did likewise for the franchise in the ‘70s adapting to the laid back California lifestyle. Gone was the clean-cut Vachon and enter the long-haired, fu manchu mustached Vachon.
Maybe it was the hair, maybe the moustache, but it was mostly the goaltending that vaulted the Kings from a second-worst team at the end of the 71-72 season to a 105 point Cup contender three seasons later with Vachon coming in runner-up to the Hart Trophy.
In the first Canada Cup in 1976, it was Vachon, not Cheevers, Parent or Dryden who played every game going 6-1 with a 1.39 GAA.
While his Canada Cup success brought him back to tthe national TV spotlight, playing on the west coast meant little TV exposure and highlights were far and few between in the pre-internet/cable-satellite TV eras.
That combined with the Kings offensive meltdowns in the playoffs is a key factor in Vachon not being in the Hall of Fame.
It’s a shame, plain and simple.
Rogie Vachon’s Career Statistics
I’m not the only one who feels this way:
Todd Denault, author of “Jacques Plante: The Man who Changed the Face of Hockey”, a contributor to HabsWorld.net and an avid goalie historian, also offers some valid arguments for Vachon’s induction.
Robert Lefebvre a huge fan of Vachon fan, echoes Denault’s thoughts with some more insight.
Some more support form Kingscast
The Montreal Gazette’s Dave Stubbs is another supporter.