STORY WITH AUDIO: After 32 years, Los Angeles Kings great Rogie Vachon was named as an Honored Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame on June 27. Read his comments and listen to an exclusive interview with him below.
LOS ANGELES — As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied, and on June 27, the Hockey Hall of Fame corrected an injustice in the hockey world when they announced that former Los Angeles Kings goaltender Rogatien “Rogie” Vachon will be inducted as an honored member, joining Eric Lindros and Sergei Makarov in the Players category, on November 14 in Toronto.
Pat Quinn was elected posthumously in the Builders category.
Vachon first became eligible in 1987, but had been passed over time and time again, despite the fact that his numbers, honors and accomplishments shined brighter than so many others who had already been enshrined. So when the call came early this morning, Vachon was floored.
“I was in total shock,” he said. “All of a sudden, out of the blue, I get a call from [Hockey Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board] Lanny McDonald in Toronto, and he said, ‘congratulations. You’re in.’ I said, ‘yeah? In what?’ He said, ‘the Hall of Fame.’ I didn’t realize that he was on the Selection Committee. So he was the one who called me.”
“My son, Nicholas, was here,” he added. “We heard the news, we hugged. It was fantastic. It was something I never expected. I had just put it aside. I just thought it wasn’t going to happen, so why worry about it?”
Frozen Royalty detailed Vachon’s case for induction into the hallowed halls of the Hockey Hall of Fame in this space years ago. To summarize:
- Won the Vezina Trophy in 1968, sharing it with Montreal Canadiens teammate Gump Worsley.
- Three-time Stanley Cup winner with Montreal.
- Runner-up to former Philadephia Flyers great Bernie Parent for the Vezina Trophy in 1975, even though many contend that he should have won it with a league-leading .926 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against average (GAA; second in the NHL that season).
- Led Canada to victory in the 1976 Canada Cup tournament with a 1.39 goals-against average, a .963 save percentage and two shutouts. Those stellar numbers earned him Best Goalie of the tournament honors, and he was named the Most Valuable Player for Canada.
- In 1998 (when yours truly first made the case for his induction), Vachon ranked fifth all-time in career NHL wins with 355. At that time, only Glenn Hall (407), Tony Esposito (423), Jacques Plante (434) and Terry Sawchuk (447) had more—all are honored members. Twelve HHOF goalies had fewer wins than Vachon.
If you compare Vachon with the star goalies of the same era, Gerry Cheevers, Ken Dryden, Esposito, Eddie Giacomin, Parent, Billy Smith, and Worsley (each is an honored member), Vachon is:
- Third in games played. Only Esposito and Worsley played in more games.
- Second in wins. Only Esposito won more games.
- Fourth in shutouts. Only Giacomin, Parent and Esposito have more.
- Fifth in winning percentage. Only Giacomin, Esposito and Dryden were better.
“Vachon was brilliant, a bright spot on a mostly bad team. He single-handedly won many games, often making the second, third and fourth saves, leaving opponents to flail their arms in frustration, or skate away with their jaws agape in amazement.”
“To be sure, the Kings were often so bad during his tenure that Vachon’s numbers are that much more incredible. He earned a 2.86 GAA with the Kings, and during the 1974-75 season, he earned an even more impressive 2.24 GAA (a Kings record) and had a .926 save percentage—the latter would be the Kings’ all-time record, but the league did not start keeping save percentage records until the 1982-83 season.”
Despite such outstanding qualifications, Vachon remained on the outside looking in for 32 years. The reason? Once he was traded to the Kings, he went from one of hockey’s meccas to hockey obscurity.
“There were very, very few games on TV,” Vachon explained in this space in November 2009. “There were probably 15-20 games broadcast locally and all the people back East would just read about it in the paper.”
“It’s pretty strange,” Vachon elaborated. “When you played in the West in those days, you didn’t get the recognition that guys like Giacomin got in New York or some of the guys playing in Montreal. It hurt some of the guys here, including me. If you compare my numbers with the guys who were inducted at that time, there’s no question that I should’ve been there. But what are you going to do?”
“If he had [been the number one goaltender] in Montreal [for all those years], he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer,” Voice of the Kings Bob Miller emphasized in that same November 2009 story. “But he did it here and they didn’t hear about it.”
As alluded to earlier, Vachon gave up on the hope of getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame years ago.
“I just let it go,” he noted. “After a few years, I never thought it would happen, so I didn’t worry about it. There’s certain things in life that you can’t control, and that was one of them. But all of a sudden, I get a phone call, and bang! I’m in. It’s fantastic.”
“It was very disappointing because nothing was happening and over the years, a lot of people actually thought I was already in the Hall of Fame,” he added. “They were surprised when I said, ‘no, I’m not in.’ But finally, I got the call today, and all that stuff is done.”
As Vachon indicated, he had no idea this was even in the works.
“I had no idea,” he said. “I had no idea that I was on the list this year. No one had told me. I guess your name is always there for them, but you probably need someone on the Committee to come in and say, ‘let’s go back to Rogie this year’ and see what everybody thinks. Sometimes, on the Committee, there are a lot of changes and then people come up with names of those who should be in. That’s probably what happened.”
Vachon indicated that his phone has been ringing off the hook.
“A lot of people have been saying, ‘it’s about time,’” he said. “I’ve heard from [Kings long-time radio play-by-play announcer] Nick Nickson, and all the guys, [Kings Vice President, Communications and Broadcasting] Mike Altieri, [Kings President/Business Operations] Luc [Robitaille], [former Kings owner] Bruce McNall, a lot of my friends at the [golf] club, a lot of my family. Everybody’s happy and ready to go come November.”
“I got a call from the Hall of Fame,” he added. “Some of my ex-teammates wanted my phone number, so I guess I’ll get a lot of calls.”
Vachon indicated that his family was also surprised by the news.
“Everybody in my family is surprised now because after all these years—it’s got to be 34 years since I stopped playing,” he added. “We talked about it for so many years, and I got a lot of support from a lot of people who tried to help me get in.”
“It’s always great to get phone calls from my daughters, my grandkids are vacationing in St. Louis right now, so it’s nice to hear from a lot of people in my family,” he added. “I got some people from my own family in Rouyn-Noranda [Quebec, near his hometown of Palmarolle]. It’s been an exciting day.”
One of his daughters, Marie-Joie Vachon, indicated that her family is very, very proud of their father.
“My dad has finally been recognized, not only for being a good father, provider, and professional, but he really worked hard to get this honor,” she said. “But he remained so humble that no one ever knew he was such a talented player in the NHL.”
As reported earlier, one of the calls he received was from Robitaille, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009, and is a member of the Selection Committee.
“He called me right away,” said Vachon. “He called me right after Lanny called. He was really excited.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Luc was very involved with it,” added Vachon. “But they don’t tell you [about the process]. The voting—they don’t say who didn’t make it, or that kind of stuff. But that’s OK. I don’t care anymore.”
With the Kings having won two Stanley Cups in recent years, along with the recent inductions of Robitaille and Rob Blake, the Kings have added respect around the league, and evidence suggests, at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“There’s a little more respect because when you win two Cups, not too many teams can do that and it’s always been a classy organization,” Vachon observed. “It’s nice to have one more member of the Hall of Fame from the Kings.”
“It turned out great,” Vachon added. “It’s the 50th Anniversary for the Kings, too. Good timing.”
Becoming an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame doesn’t compare to winning the Stanley Cup. Nevertheless, it is a coveted individual honor.
“It’s probably the last achievement that an athlete really wants,” said Vachon. “I won the Stanley Cup and I won the Canada Cup in 1976, playing for your country. That’s fantastic. But then, the ultimate [individual honor] is getting into that private club—the Hall of Fame.”
“There’s so many hockey players over the years—thousands and thousands of players—who wish they could be, but they’re not,” added Vachon. “It’s a very exclusive club. Now I’m part of it, so it’s fantastic.”
Vachon does have one regret about his upcoming induction—his wife, Nicole, passed away last February.
“It’s too bad it didn’t happen a couple of years ago, before she passed away,” he lamented. “She worked really hard to try to get me in there. She was so supportive the whole time. That’s the one thing that I miss. She’s not going to be there for the event, sharing it with me. That’s not good.”
Now, only one question remains for Vachon: what jersey will his plaque in the Great Hall of the Hockey Hall of Fame depict him in?
“God, I haven’t thought about it at all,” he said. “It’s going to be an interesting decision.”
“Don’t try to ruin my day,” he added, jokingly.
Sorry about that, Rogie, but congratulations on an honor well deserved and so long overdue.
LEAD PHOTO: Former Los Angeles Kings goaltender Rogie Vachon. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings Alumni Association.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Rogie Vachon (10:26)
Frozen Royalty’s Rogie Vachon Coverage:
- Time To Right A Wrong: Hockey Hall of Fame Must Induct Rogie Vachon
- Former LA Kings And Montreal Canadiens Great Rogie Vachon Still On The Outside Looking In
- Los Angeles Kings Must Do More Than Honor Legend Rogie Vachon During A Pre-Game Ceremony
- Open Letter To The Hockey Hall of Fame: Address The Injustice and Induct Rogie Vachon
- Los Angeles Kings Superstar, Legend Rogie Vachon Says Receiving Stanley Cup Ring Was “Phenomenal”
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