Rogatien Vachon will spend one of the greatest weekends of his life with his children and grandchildren as he basks in the glory of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame over the next couple of days. But there is someone missing from all of this and Vachon was quick to remember the person to whom he owed the most.
“My wife passed away in February,” Vachon told the assembled media, with his voice shaking, shortly after receiving his Hall of Fame ring Friday afternoon. Then he took a moment to collect himself. “I wish she could be here. I miss her. I think about her every day and I know she’s in the right place, but I wish she were here.”
Rogie Vachon waited 31 years to get the call from the Hall of Fame and sometimes wondered whether he’d ever receive it. When he did this summer, it was only months after Nicole, his wife of 45 years, had succumbed to a brain tumor. As happy as he is about it all, there is an underlying sadness to it all. At the very least, it’s a bittersweet moment for him.
“You have some great moments and sad moments,” Vachon said, “but you have to go through it.”
There are not many players who have had to wait as long to get inducted as Vachon, who won three Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. He was Gump Worsley’s backup in 1968 and Ken Dryden’s backup in ’71, but was brilliant in the final in 1969, allowing just three goals in the Canadiens’ four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues. But it was with the Los Angeles Kings where Vachon came to prominence as a player and forged his Hall of Fame credentials. In 1974-75, he was the backbone of a Kings team that piled up 105 points, which still stands as the franchise record, en route to finishing second in Hart Trophy voting to Bobby Clarke. Vachon was also terrific in leading Canada to the championship of the first Canada Cup in 1976, which proved to be the pinnacle of his playing career.
“I exchanged jerseys with (Czechoslovakian goaltender Vladimir Dzurilla) after the final,” Vachon said. “And I have a cute story for you. His jersey, I had to wash it about five times. I guess they didn’t wash it too much. Not big on the washing.”
That tournament and his play in the mid-1970s represented the apex of Vachon’s journey through the NHL. But for the longest time, it wasn’t enough to get him recognized by the Hall of Fame. And in that sense, he has a lot in common with the other members of the Class of 2016 in the players’ category. Eric Lindros had to wait six years before getting the call. Makarov went 16 years before he was inducted.
“I’m not the only guy who has waited and thought he should be there,” Vachon said. “But after a while you just let it go and say ‘Well, I guess it’s not going to happen,’ and forget about it and not worry about it and move on. Then you get a call and it changes your life. If you look at the records over the years when I played and you compare my records to the other goalies that are in the Hall of Fame, I was right there. But certain things you can’t control.”
Vachon knows that only too well, given what he has endured with his wife, a woman he met when he was set up on a blind date while playing for the Canadiens. That date, set up by a reporter who covered the Canadiens, led to a 45-year marriage and three children. Vachon was asked what his wife would say to him on this day.
“She would say, ‘It’s about time,’ ” Vachon said. “We waited over 30 years for this and it’s finally here.”
We may not have to wait that long to see another Vachon goaltender making his mark. Rogie’s son Nicholas was a left winger who was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1990 and appeared in one NHL game, for the New York Islanders in 1996-97. He also had a long career in the defunct International League. Nicholas’ son Calvin currently plays goal for the Los Angeles Kings AAA team and will be playing in the internationally renowned Quebec Peewee tournament this season.
“Wait until you see him,” the eldest Vachon said. “He’s a great athlete and he loves the game and he’s going to be good.”