Jun 28, 2011, 2:36 PM EDT
On a day when the Hall of Fame is going to open its doors to a few more members, it’s a perfect time to look back at one of the Hall’s more glaring omissions: Rogatien Vachon. Rogie was one of the best goaltenders throughout his career—yet he has been repeatedly passed over since he was eligible for induction in 1987. How he’s not in the Hall of Fame is still a question to people who have been around hockey in California over the last three decades.
Vachon has been one of the faces of the Kings franchise ever since he was traded to Los Angeles at the beginning of the 1971-72 season. Even though there were plenty of sports fans who knew nothing about the Kings in the 1970s, Vachon was a name that transcended hockey in the southern California sports landscape. They may not have known the difference between “double shifting” and a “double down the line,” but “Save by Vachon!” was something all sports fans could associate with Kings hockey.
Some people measure Hall of Fame credentials by looking at a player’s importance during his playing career. He was one of the best goaltenders of his era and to this day one of the best players in Los Angeles Kings history. He was the first player to have his number retired by the Kings—an organization that has only retired five numbers in its entire history. His peers, both teammates and opponents alike, respected him as one of the best netminders when he was at his peak.
Still other people insist that statistics are the only true measure of a Hall of Fame career. Over the course of his career, he had 355 wins, 51 shutouts, a Vezina trophy, and three Stanley Cups. In 7 seasons with the Kings, he racked up 171 wins, 32 shutouts, and a 2.82 goals against average on some pretty bad teams. Vachon himself admitted to Gann Matsuda that it was tough for the first few years with the Kings:
““When I first [joined the Kings], it was pretty rough. We used to go on the road and sometimes, I would give up five goals and play an incredible game, but still lose 5-0.”
“In those days, we gave up a lot of scoring chances because we weren’t as good. Especially the top teams like Boston, Montreal and the New York Rangers—when they came into town, they just blew us away. They spent eighty percent of the game in our zone.”
When he played behind a good defensive corps as he did in the 1976 Canada Cup, he proved to be spectacular. In 7 games, he had 2 shutouts, .940 save percentage, and a 1.39 goals against as he helped lead Team Canada to the Gold medal. He was named to the all-tournament team and MVP for Team Canada despite teammates like Bobby Hull, Denis Potvin, and Bobby Orr.
Former Kings head coach Bob Berry played with Vachon in Los Angeles and understood the importance of their superstar goaltender. When the Kings turned things around in the mid-1970s with some of their best teams, Vachon again was in the middle of it:
“Part of us learning how to win as a team was to keep our goals against down and I think under coach Bob Pulford, we all thought we were doing things well defensively. He brought a lot to it. But that said, it was still Rogie who was the last line of defense, and on most nights, when we would win close games, 3-1 or 2-1, or whatever it happened to be in those days, it was usually him who bailed us out and made big stops.”
“He would keep the ship afloat and we’d finally understand that we’d better get going,” Berry stressed. “It didn’t happen every night, but it happened enough. He taught us how to win.”
He must have been doing something right, because it’s been thirty years since he left the Kings (as a player) and he’s still the franchise leader in wins.
It’s easy to wonder if things would be different if a few more people actually saw him play. During his peak in LA, it was over 1,000 miles to the next closest NHL outpost in Vancouver. The Kings did not attract attention from media in opposing markets, nor did they catch the eye of the national media. If he had put up his statistics with the Canadiens or Rangers throughout his career, there would be no debate—he would have been enshrined twenty years ago. Yes, that was the east-coast bias card that was just dropped.
Regardless, it’s an absolute travesty that Vachon isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully, the Hall will realize the glaring mistake and rectify their error one day. That is, if they remember he exists.
(Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Kings)
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