FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: The Los Angeles Kings honored their past last week when they paid tribute to former superstar goaltender Rogie Vachon. But it sounds like the Kings may have even more up their sleeves to honor the Hockey Hall of Fame-worthy netminder.
LOS ANGELES — Last week, the Los Angeles Kings paid tribute to their past in the first of three “Legends Nights” this season. Rather appropriately, the first legend they chose to honor was their first true superstar and the first Kings player to have his jersey retired, superstar goaltender Rogatien “Rogie” Vachon.
Accompanied by his wife, children and their families, Vachon was honored during a pre-game ceremony, one that brought a visible smile to his face.
“It was very, very well done,” said the 65-year-old native of Palmarolle, Quebec. “[Kings President/Business Operations] Luc Robitaille and the [communications] department did a fantastic job. They planned it very well, and they asked me which people I wanted to invite. Having the whole family on the ice at the same time was very special.”
“A few months ago, Luc called me and wanted to find out if I would be willing to do that,” added Vachon. “Luc has been so good to our family, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it for you.’”
“Looking back, I think it’s going to be a nice souvenir for the whole family, especially for the grand kids.”
Vachon was an obvious choice for Robitaille, since Vachon was the Kings general manager when Robitaille was selected in the ninth round, 171st overall, in the 1984 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
“Being a kid from Montreal, I knew the legend—Rogie Vachon,” said Robitaille, the highest scoring left wing in NHL history. “It was more like—when I saw him, then, he was suddenly the general manager.”
“You’re a hockey player from Quebec, and you hear about this legend,” added Robitaille. “The next thing you know, he’s the general manager. It was very impactful [sic]. For me, it was a grand moment.”
In his early years in the Kings organization, as a wet-behind-the-years prospect, Robitaille had little contact with Vachon.
“When I got drafted, even though it was the ninth round, I went down [to the Kings’ draft table],” Robitaille noted. “He wasn’t there at the table at the time, but he came back and he shook my hand. That was it. The next training camp, the only time I talked to him was when I got cut.”
The same thing happened in Robitaille’s second season with the franchise. But his third year would be different.
“I didn’t talk to him a lot until my third year,” he said. “I remember when I was a rookie, the first real interaction I had with him, he called me into this office after three or four games. I think he already saw that I was worried because I didn’t score and we didn’t play very well.”
“I’ll never forget,” he added. “He looked at me and said, ‘we don’t expect you to score goals every night. Just go out there, play your game and have fun. That’s what we want you for. You bring a lot of energy to our team.’”
“I said, ‘OK Mr. Vachon.’ He really was helpful to me because he made me feel at ease.”
Robitaille pointed out that Vachon was much more to the Kings than a superstar goaltender.
Indeed, Vachon was the Kings’ general manager from January 30, 1984 through June 25, 1992, and the competitiveness that he displayed as a player helped him in the front office as well.
“He was very competitive,” said Robitaille. “That’s the reason he became a general manager. Rogie was about trying to build the best organization. In his own quiet way—the way his demeanor was, the way he walked around, people had so much respect for him.”
“There’s this saying, that you don’t become a leader,” added Robitaille. “You are a leader. He was [a leader].”
Vachon played a big role in Robitaille’s development into an NHL superstar.
“If it wasn’t for Rogie, I wouldn’t be in the NHL,” Robitaille stressed. “He’s the guy who gave me a chance. I remember when he offered me my first contract. He made sure I was set up right. He helped get me to live at Marcel Dionne’s house. He was a huge part of my career for a long time.”
Robitaille also pointed out that Vachon deserves more credit than he has received for building the team during the Gretzky era.
“This is how good Rogie was, and how good of a teammate he was, too,” said Robitaille. “When we got Wayne Gretzky, it was all about [then-owner Bruce McNall]. What people forget is that when we got Wayne, Rogie made sure we got Kelly Hrudey, Mike Krushelnyski, Marty McSorley, Larry Robinson, John Tonelli and Steve Kasper.”
“He made sure our team surrounded [Gretzky] well, and we were going to be a good team right away,” added Robitaille. “You cannot be great with just one player…that’s why we went from being a team that barely got into the playoffs—we added the greatest player in the world, but he made sure he had a great supporting cast around him.”
Speaking of him deserving more credit, as has been reported in this space in the past, despite his superstar-level play, especially on mostly bad Kings teams, Vachon remains an outcast from a place he rightfully should be a member of…
…the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Indeed, Vachon should be an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, but has been overlooked year after year, primarily because he played here in Los Angeles, where barely any of his games were ever on television and the people who needed to see him play in Canada and the in East rarely did, if ever.
Talk about obscurity…
This reporter has detailed Vachon’s career and credentials and commented on the travesty that he has not been inducted into the hallowed halls of the Hockey Hall of Fame in two stories that, if you are not familiar with his career, you should read:
- Time To Right A Wrong: Hockey Hall of Fame Must Induct Rogie Vachon
- Former LA Kings, Montreal Canadiens Great Rogie Vachon Speaks About Career, Exclusion From Hockey Hall Of Fame
Also making a case for Vachon, and rather strongly, was the “Voice of the Kings,” Bob Miller, who called out the Hockey Hall of Fame quite bluntly in his remarks during the pre-game ceremony honoring Vachon, knowing that his remarks were being carried live throughout Canada on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada broadcast, along with the local Fox Sports West telecast, which was also available on the NHL Center Ice package across the United States.
Miller coming on so strong was a surprise, even to Vachon.
“I was a little surprised, especially on national TV, and the game was going into Canada on Hockey Night In Canada,” said Vachon. “He tried to make a point. Jimmy was very nice, too. Jimmy Fox did the same thing in between periods [on the Fox Sports West telecast].”
Back in 1998, the Kings launched a campaign to get the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee to consider Vachon for induction. This reporter, along with the rest of the local media, was asked to look at Vachon’s case and write a story about it, which I gladly did.
“If I remember correctly, a long time ago, Mr. [Philip] Anschutz, the owner, sent a letter to the committee, and they were working on it very hard, but nothing really materialized,” said Vachon.
Apparently, the campaign fizzled out after that.
Rumblings about the Kings needing to do something to get Vachon into the Hockey Hall of Fame started up again a couple of summers ago, when former Kings legendary superstar center Marcel Dionne, an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, called on the Kings to get it done.
“The organization’s got to get behind this,” Dionne said on August 29, 2009, during the Kings’ Hockeyfest 09 event. “It’s a political thing. If you look at the research, [Vachon’s] stats are as good as some of the guys who are elected.”
“I noticed some [prior inductees] that are political choices,” Dionne added. “So you’ve got to get behind it. You have to make some phone calls and [go through the process]. You have to put pressure on them.”
With Miller, who was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a media honoree in 2000, and Dionne, that makes two members of the Hockey Hall of Fame saying that Vachon deserves to be inducted.
Make that three.
“I think Rogie should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” said Robitaille, who was a first-ballot inductee in 2009. “He had great numbers, he won the Stanley Cup. He had a tremendous impact as a player in Los Angeles, and just as big an impact as a manager. It’s very rare to see that.”
Although nothing is set in stone, Robitaille acknowledged that the Kings are in the talking stages of mounting some sort of campaign to get the Hockey Hall of Fame to look at Vachon’s case and give him the honor he so rightfully deserves.
“We need to get behind [Vachon’s bid for Hockey Hall of Fame membership], and we need to start talking about it,” Robitaille emphasized. “It’s something that we should address as an organization. I don’t really know how, but it’s something we started talking about ever since we started talking about doing this [Legends] Game and bringing him back this year.”
“I think there are twelve voting members for the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Robitaille added. “You’ve just got to find a way to get it out there as much as you can and see what can come out of it. It’s something that we have to start pushing as an organization.”
Although Vachon resigned himself to being on the outside looking in long ago, he is appreciative of the efforts on his behalf.
“I don’t know if they’re going to send some letters, or how exactly they’re going to work it out, but, it’s very nice of them to think about it,” he said. “It’s a little too late, it’s been quite awhile. Personally, if it does happen, that’ll be fantastic, but, you know…it’s tough.”
The difference between now and the time he was playing, and even from 1998, is that there are far more options available in terms of communication and media exposure, including the pervasive social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter.
“There’s so much communication everywhere now, it’s pretty easy to pass the word,” said Vachon. “ But I’m not sure we can convince the committee to look back at the record again and see where we stand.”
“It’s nice to have somebody trying to work it out,” added Vachon. “Hopefully, someday, it’s going to happen. Maybe they’ll give it a real solid try this time, and see what happens.”
Robitaille and the Kings need to do more than talk on this one. They must mount a stronger campaign and push hard to get the selection committee to take a serious look at Vachon’s case.
They owe Vachon at least that much.
LEAD PHOTO: Former Los Angeles Kings superstar goaltender Rogie Vachon (right) was honored by the team (Kings President/Business Operations Luc Robitaille is pictured, at left) during a ceremony prior to the their game against the Edmonton Oilers on January 15, 2011, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo: Noah Graham, courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
Raw audio interviews
(edited to remove extraneous material and dead air)
Luc Robitaille (8:04)
Rogie Vachon (5:36)
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