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Rogie Vachon surprised by Hockey Hall of Fame induction call

Goaltender Rogie Vachon said Gordie Howe played a role in the netminder's long and legendary career.

Vachon received a surprise start for his first NHL game of his career in the 1966-67 season against the Detroit Red Wings. Howe took the puck from the blueline in on a breakaway and fired the Red Wings’ first shot on goal of the game on Vachon.

“I don’t know if I closed my eyes when he shot but I stopped him,” Vachon said. “That probably kept me in the league for 16 years.” 

On Monday, it was announced Vachon was part of the Hockey Hall of Fame's newest induction class. It's an honor many believed was long overdue for Vachon who reitred after 1981-82 after a career mostly known for his successes with the Montreal Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings. He also had shorter stints with the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. 

After he started to become eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame, every year he felt disappointment as other players of his era would get a call to tell them they would be inducted.

Vachon’s selection to the Hall of Fame was a surprise because the Hall had passed him over for so many years. In our odds we listed him as 20/1 to get into the Hall of Fame.

“Originally it’s very frustrating because a lot of people thought I was already in the Hall of Fame and after a while and a few years you say, ‘Well, OK I’ll forget about it and if it’s not gonna happen, it’s not gonna happen,’” Vachon said. “There are certain things in life you can’t control and that was one of them until I got a call from (Hockey Hall of Fame chairman) Lanny (McDonald) this morning and ‘boy this is going to change the whole thing now.’”

In his career, the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Vachon held a 2.99 goal-against average in 795 career games. He won the Vezina Trophy in 1967-68 and was the Hart Trophy runner-up in 1974-75. That season he held a 2.24 goal-against average and notched six shutouts in 54 games played with Los Angeles. His 355 wins rank 19th in NHL history and he ranks second on the Kings behind Jonathan Quick in games played (389), wins (171) and shutouts (32). Vachon’s number 30 is one of six retired by Los Angeles in the organization’s history.

In the 1976 Canada Cup, Vachon allowed only 10 goals in the seven-game series (1.44 GAA) for Team Canada, including one shutout and an overtime victory in the finals versus Czechoslovakia.

In 2009, Frozen Royalty wrote about why Vachon should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

I remember watching Vachon in the nets whenever I was at the Fabulous Forum for a game or when I watched the few televised games on KHJ-TV 9 here in Los Angeles way back in the mid-Seventies. Vachon was usually spectacular and since he played mostly for teams that were awful, he was a real standout. Vachon’s quickness, positional play, and ability to remain focused appeared to be his biggest strengths. 

Indeed, Vachon was so good, he often won games all by himself. I know many other long-time Kings’ fans who went to games just to see Vachon play. To them, he was incredible. He dominated games, night in and night out.

I have vivid memories of him making, not just the first save, but often the second, third and fourth saves as well, time and time again. Of course, that was because he usually had little to no help from the Kings’ skaters. But the frustration in the faces of opposing forwards after Vachon had stoned them after a flurry in front of the Kings’ net, was a frequent sight.

Vachon said he was at home with his son Nicholas when he took McDonald’s call. 

“I was in total surprise because I didn’t even know I was going to be on the list but you know looking back is just – it was really worth the wait because it looks like it’s going to be something really changed in your life and fortunately,” he said.

He requested a trade from Montreal after the 1970-71 season, believing he didn’t have a chance to unseat Ken Dryden as the team’s starting goaltender. Vachon wound up in Los Angeles and a lot of Vachon’s better years came with the Kings as he tried to lead the young franchise to relevancy.

Ultimately this may have hurt his candidacy for the Hall of Fame and other awards during his career since visibility of West Coast teams in the 70s was limited.

“In those days with that three-hour time difference there was not a lot of coverage of teams in the West,” Vachon said. “We were sort of left behind a little bit compared to all the teams back East and most reporters were back East and all the players playing there and diminished a little bit on what we accomplished on the West.” 

Vachon also held coaching and management positions with the Kings after he retired. He was LA’s general manager when the team acquired Wayne Gretzky in 1988.

Vachon currently resides in the Venice area of Los Angeles and said he was sad his wife (who died recently) couldn’t witness Monday’s announcement. 

Said Vachon “I wanted to share this stuff with her but she’s no longer here … but she would be proud.”

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