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50 Forgotten Stories: Vachon Stories, Part 2

by Sheng Peng @Sheng_Peng / LAKings.com

See "50 Forgotten Stories: Vachon Stories, Part 1" here!

26) After he was named 1974-75's The Hockey News Player of the Year, Rogie contacted typhoid fever during the summer. "I spent the entire month of August cooped up in my house. I have no idea how I got it. I lost 10 pounds." (Larson, Al. "Will Dionne solve Kings' power woes?" Independent Press-Telegram, September 16, 1975.)

27) This illness may have contributed to Vachon's slow preseason and career-worst two-game stretch, as he surrendered 16 goals to the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders to kick off the 1975-76 campaign. He bounced back just a couple weeks later though, starting a career-best six-game winning streak.

28) Off the ice, Rogie enjoyed TV quiz shows. "He likes to test his knowledge but also keep his mind alert." (Maher, Charles. "The French Chef." Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1977.)

To this day, he's still a fan, "Try to work on your brain a little bit. I still watch a lot of Jeopardy."

29) Speaking of, Vachon participated in local TV quiz show "Sports Challenge" in May 1976. He competed with teammates Marcel Dionne and Bob Nevin against New York Yankees legends Mickey Mantle, Don Larsen, and Tony Kubek.

Rogie recalls a narrow loss.

Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, Jim Plunkett, Joe Louis, Merlin Olsen, and Maury Wills, among others, were at the shoot.

"What are the hockey guys doing here?" joked Milwaukee Braves pitcher Lew Burdette, "What's hockey?" (Hall, John. "Around Town." Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1976.)

30) When Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent declined to represent Team Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup, Vachon leapfrogged Chico Resch and Gerry Cheevers to seize international glory. In seven games, he gave up just 11 goals and enjoyed two shutouts, leading Canada to the championship. "You couldn't possibly expect the goaltender to do a better job than he did," commented Head Coach Scotty Bowman. (Hafner, Dan. "From the Peak, Vachon Has Had a Big Comedown." Los Angeles Times, October 26, 1976.)

31) The compliments over Rogie's Team MVP turn came from all around. USSR Head Coach Viktor Tikhonov offered, "I think the netminder Vachon is superior to Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito and Gerry Cheevers." Heading into 1976-77, Vachon was considered by some to be the best goalie in the world. ("Soviet Coach Hails Orr, Goalie Vachon." Associated Press, September 17, 1976.)

32) "Monday night is my night. Monday Night Football. I'll tell my wife, Nicole, to get out of the house. I'll take care of the kids," shared Rogie. "I'm a good cook and I'll have a couple of guys on the team over - usually single guys - and cook dinner for them." (Maher, Charles. "The French Chef.")

The French-Canadian's specialties were beef bourguignon, chicken l'orange, and pâté chinois.

33) These days, Vachon doesn't cook as much, "My days of being a really good chef are pretty much over. But when the kids and grandkids come over, I like to cook."

However, he's proud of his culinary place in franchise history: "I was pretty decent. Doesn't mean I was the best [on the Kings]. Let's say I was in the top-three."

34) On February 15, 1977, Rogie became the first netminder in the NHL's 60-year-old history to score a goal.

Actually, the Islanders' Bryan Trottier was responsible, as it was his pass back to the front which slid into an open net on a Los Angeles delayed penalty. Thought to be the last King to touch the puck, Vachon was initially credited with the goal.

Until he wasn't. After careful video review, Vic Venasky was given the tally.

Rogie joked, "For about 40 minutes I was the greatest scorer in history among goaltenders." (Hafner, Dan. "Vachon Nearly Gets Goal but Settles for 3-0 Shutout." Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1977.)

He was still laughing about it years later, "If I had a goal, I would've have liked to have shot the puck and scored myself. Not the cheap way like this.

"I hit the posts a couple times in my career."

35) "Rogie Vachon is the best goalie in the league right now," acknowledged future Hall of Famer Borje Salming in 1977. (Zwikel, Toby. "Vachon rated with the best." Valley News, March 10, 1977.)

36) That in mind, Los Angeles headed into the 1978 offseason with much uncertainty, as Rogie, star center Butch Goring, top blueliner Gary Sargent, and three other regulars were free agents.

Detroit Red Wings GM Ted Lindsay wanted both Vachon and Goring, but he and Los Angeles GM George Maguire couldn't swing the blockbuster. The New York Rangers were rumored to have offered forward Pat Hickey, defender Ron Greschner, and goaltender John Davidson for Vachon.

"I know a contract like mine probably is going to hurt hockey in the long run," observed a prescient Rogie. "It's not the players' fault. It's the fault of the management. They are willing to give us this kind of money and the players would be crazy not to take it." ("Wings covet goalie Vachon." Associated Press, June 27, 1978.)

37) The Red Wings made the 32-year-old the highest-paid goalie in the league, inking him to a five-year, 1.9 million dollar contract. His $350,000 yearly salary dwarfed Dryden's reported $238,000.

"The Kings gave me no choice," lamented Vachon. "Mr. Cooke and Maguire were laughing at me, they thought I was only kidding when I told them what other teams were offering me." (Edes, Gordon. "Vachon's Eyes Have Gotten Very Heavy." Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1981.)

Los Angeles refused to even cross the $200K annual barrier until the last minute, as the fiery Maguire snapped, "We're not running an old folks home here." (Henderson, Tom. "Vachon won't miss Kings' GM Maguire." Detroit Free Press, September 22, 1978.)

It was just another big money LA-Detroit move. Just three years earlier, Cooke had made Wings free agent Marcel Dionne the highest-paid player in hockey.

38) The pressure of playing in Detroit was obvious from the get-go. At a summer cocktail party, with the prospect of key Red Wings center Dale McCourt going to the Kings as compensation for signing him, Rogie was approached by a fan.

"You're Rogie Vachon?"

"Yes, I am."

"We're going to be at Olympia and we're going to be there to boo you. We're going to boo you on every goal against you."

This exchange was an eye-opener for the netminder who had been so revered at the Forum. "This was with a lot of players and wives around. I thought, 'Boy, what's it going to be like with 15,000 people in the Olympia?' " (Lapointe, Joe. "Red Wings' Rogie knows fans must be won over." Detroit Free Press, October 12, 1978.)

39) Rogie got off to a slow start in the Motor City and was benched in his first game back in Los Angeles on November 22, 1978. Obviously disappointed, he tried to keep a brave face about Coach Bobby Kromm's decision. "He told me I probably would have too many things on my mind tonight, other than hockey. But we have a couple of other games coming up with the Kings in the next 10 days and I know I'm going to get my chance." (Merry, Don. "McCourt Ties Up the Kings Again, 3-3." Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1978.)

40) Vachon would be passed over for those games too, finally battling his old mates on January 13, 1979 in Detroit. After the 7-3 loss, he phoned the Kings' dressing room and congratulated his successor and future All-Star Mario Lessard on a game well played.

"He reminds me of me," mused Rogie. "I look at him and I always see myself...the same little habits...the style...the stance. It's amazing." Not surprisingly, the French-Canadian Lessard's hero was Vachon. (Merry, Don. "Vachon's Winter of Discontent." Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1979.)

41) During his first season in Detroit, Vachon was waived in March.

However, his disappointing performance may have been health-related. He had suffered a concussion in his last year with the Kings and tests in December by Red Wings' doctors showed he was still suffering from its effects.

"Early in the year [Rogie] told me he had a problem keeping his concentration all game," revealed Terry Harper. "When I was out there I'd go by and yell at him just to make sure he was okay."

Physical therapist Bernie Falk told Vachon, "I can't believe you're a goaltender. Your eyes are so messed up." (Henderson, Tom. "Vachon put on waivers -- are there any takers?" Detroit Free Press, March 7, 1979.)

42) Rogie went unclaimed and returned to Detroit. The next year, he turned to hypnotist Saul Morris to reclaim his game.

"You imagine that you are on the farm somewhere, you see different trees and flowers and everything and you work with colors," said Vachon of his sessions with Morris. "After a while, you put everything from your mind and you actually see a color, you see the lake there, and you see everything. It's really good and relaxing."

Before games, he would play tapes of their sessions.

"The tapes contain Morris' resonant voice urging Vachon to recall great games he has played in the past. Morris suggests, for example, remembering the crowd chanting 'Ro-gie, Ro-gie.'

"Dreamy, Eastern music plays in the background." (McGraw, Bill. "Rogie's hypnotist speaks to Wings." Detroit Free Press, March 12, 1980.)

43) Rogie almost went into business with Morris. Luckily, he didn't, as Dr. Saul Morris was actually Walter Paul Kitonis III, convicted thief and abortionist with an arrest record in seven states, whose false credentials were exposed while posing as an expert in a murder trial.

"I laughed so much when I heard that, but honestly, he was good," swore Vachon. "He never charged me a penny. But I think he wanted to use my name and my money. He was looking for a sucker." (Edes, Gordon. "Vachon's Eyes Have Gotten Very Heavy.")

44) After a couple hard years in Detroit, the 35-year-old was traded to the Boston Bruins in the summer of 1980. There, he mentored young Olympic hero Jim Craig, who called him the "classiest guy I've met in hockey." (Edes, Gordon. "For

Cheevers, Vachon, Craig, It's a New Start." Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1980.)

45) The Bruins would ask Rogie to switch from a molded to a cage mask. It was a difficult adjustment for the veteran, but a 15-year-old at his summer hockey camp offered some sage advice, "It may sound weird, but he said to wear it around the house. Watching TV with it, for example, forces you to focus beyond the bars. It looked a silly in front of the kids." (Edes, Gordon. "Vachon's Eyes Have Gotten Very Heavy.")

46) Vachon was an avid tennis player, "It's probably the greatest game for keeping in shape if you're a goalie." (Maher, Charles. "The French Chef." Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1977.)

47) He posted his last career win and shutout against Los Angeles and Lessard on March 6, 1982 at Boston Garden.

48) After Rogie was released by the Boston Bruins before the 1982-83 season, he re-joined the Kings as a goaltending consultant during the spring. That summer, he was promoted to assistant coach. In January 1984, Head Coach Don Perry was fired and Vachon took over for two games on an interim basis. Two days later, he replaced Maguire as general manager.

One of the games that Rogie coached was against the Edmonton Oilers, where LA halted Wayne Gretzky's record 51-game point-scoring streak.

49) Vachon was LA's general manager until June 1992. During his tenure, he drafted Luc Robitaille, Tom Glavine, Jimmy Carson, Rob Blake, Martin Gelinas, Darryl Sydor, Robert Lang, and Alexei Zhitnik. He traded or acquired Charlie Simmer, Steve Shutt, Tiger Williams, Dionne, Gretzky, Marty McSorley, Kelly Hrudey, Tony Granato, Tomas Sandstrom, Bernie Nicholls, Jari Kurri, Steve Duchesne, and Paul Coffey. Swiping Coffey from the Pittsburgh Penguins in February 1992 was Vachon's last deal.

50) When Rogie was growing up in Palmarolle, his idol was Terry Sawchuk. When Patrick Roy was growing up in Quebec City, his idol was Rogie Vachon. As Roy recently told NHL.com, "Every time I was playing hockey with friends as a boy in my Quebec City backyard, I was Rogie Vachon."

This Monday, Sawchuk, Vachon, and Roy will finally be in the Hockey Hall of Fame together. Congratulations, Rogie!

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50 Forgotten Stories: Bill White & The Worst Kings Team Ever

50 Forgotten Stories: The Battle For Red Kelly + Who Is Yasushin Tanaka?

50 Forgotten Stories: It Was Almost The LA Blades

Sheng Peng is a freelance hockey writer based out of Los Angeles, California. He covers the LA Kings and Ontario Reign for Today's Slapshot. His work has also appeared on VICE Sports, The Hockey News, and SB Nation's Jewels from the Crown.

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