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Ken Dryden happy for Rogie Vachon

Former Canadiens goalie pleased to see ex-teammate will finally be inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- Rogie Vachon could see the writing on the wall in the late winter of 1971 when a lanky young goaltender with considerable promise arrived in Montreal from its farm system.

Ken Dryden would win his first six regular-season games for the Montreal Canadiens late that 1970-71 season, taking an unblemished record into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 Dryden, up from the Montreal Voyageurs of the American Hockey League at age 23 to join Vachon and Phil Myre, would play all 20 postseason games for the Canadiens - seven against the Boston Bruins, six against the Minnesota North Stars and then seven against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final - to lead Montreal to its 17th NHL championship.

It's a remarkable statistic that Dryden won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs before he lost his first regular-season game and before he won the 1971-72 Calder Memorial Trophy as the League's top rookie.

One month into the 1971-72 season, with Dryden set to play a League-high 64 games, the Canadiens accommodated Vachon's wish to play somewhere that he'd be the starter, general manager Sam Pollock trading him to the Los Angeles Kings for goalie Denis Dejordy, forward Doug Robinson and defensemen Noel Price and Dale Hoganson.

Dryden, now an educator and author, has good memories of Vachon, who on Monday will follow him into the Hockey Hall of Fame 33 years after his own induction.

"The circumstances in which Rogie and I got to know each other weren't easy ones," said Dryden. "The Canadiens hadn't had a very good year up to that point, they hadn't made the playoffs the year before, and to have to deal with a new goalie being called up to be part of a mix of three goalies isn't easy for somebody who has been the regular goalie and has won Stanley Cups as the regular goalie."

By the 1970-71 season, Vachon had been a member of the Canadiens' Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1967-68 and 1968-69 and, with Lorne "Gump" Worsley, at 38 Vachon's senior by 16 years, had shared the 1967-68 Vezina Trophy awarded to the team that had allowed the fewest goals against.

"Rogie was a great competitor," Dryden said. "So he was competing hard, as we all were, to be that goalie who would play in the playoffs. But he was never anything other than a good guy and never anything other than a good teammate. He was always really nice to me. It's easy to be a good teammate when you're playing and things are going well, but it's a real challenge to be a good teammate when they aren't.

"What I remember most about Rogie is something that I'm sure you've heard a thousand times from other people - that Rogie is just a really good guy. Right through the end of that (1970-71) regular season and through the playoffs, he could have reacted two different ways: destructively - he could have gone to the media and complained about not playing - or constructively. And Rogie is a constructive guy. Rogie loved his team and he loved his teammates. He wanted good things for his team and his teammates. If that meant that I was the goalie at the time and he wasn't, he'd deal with that. He would never not be a good teammate or a good friend to all of the players on the team."

The styles of Vachon and Dryden were as different as their body types. Vachon was 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds; Dryden 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. Where Vachon challenged shooters, racing almost recklessly out of his net to cut down angles, sprawling and wandering and darting about often acrobatically, Dryden was a more conventional stand-up goalie who worked to outthink shooters, which he did on stellar teams and winning six Stanley Cup championships through the 1970s, five times awarded the Vezina Trophy.

"Rogie was less the anomaly than I was at that time," Dryden said, speaking about Vachon's small physique, referencing the stocky Worsley, and the diminutive Charlie Hodge of the Canadiens and Roger Crozier of the Detroit Red Wings, among others. "Other goalies were about two inches taller than Rogie, but I'd still be four or five inches taller than they were. It was a different time of playing goal and no matter who you were as a goalie, it was mostly net and you had to try to find a way to make that work.

"With somebody like Rogie, if you're smaller, then you take away net by being on top of the shooter. You read what's going to happen next and you move out closer to the shooter so that when he looks up, ready to do something, the net is gone because you've taken it away from him. 

"Rogie had to be, and he was, very quick," Dryden said. "For the most part, every goalie had to be, no matter his size, because the reality was that a shooter coming in could see more net than they could see you. So you had to try to shift the balance a little bit to discourage them - not just to stop their shots, but to discourage them ahead of the shots that they would take. Rogie certainly was that kind of a goalie."

Some have argued that Vachon should have been elected to the Hall of Fame years, even decades ago. For Dryden, the induction now of his friend and former stablemate is a wonderful thing.

"As much as Rogie would have enjoyed this years ago, I'm sure he's over the moon now, and that's the nice part," Dryden said. "That he can appreciate it even more so now, good for him."

 

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