FEBRUARY 10, 1975
Last April, in the midst of his 15th comfortable year in the front office of the frustratingly comfortable (read: bad) Los Angeles Kings, Rogie Vachon got the news: He was being canned. Well, actually, demoted, from chief hockey operations officer to vice president of special projects. Canned? Rogie Vachon? The best goaltender in Kings' history? How could this be? Yet in what was a sweeping shakeup of the L.A. front office, Vachon was cool. "No big deal," he says. "I've been a King through good and bad. This is where my heart is. I've faced a lot tougher days than that."
Indeed, Vachon, a 1968 Vezina Trophy winner and thrice a Stanley Cup winner, has often faced difficult challenges. Like coaching the Kings three times—all on an interim basis—when they were one of the worst teams in hockey. Like trading Wayne Gretzky, as he helped do in 1996 as L.A. president. Like having to stand up to the likes of Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe, as he did as a 5'7", 165-pound goalie during his 16 NHL seasons. Canned? Big deal. Ever take a shot by Howe in the face, sans mask? "When you're my size, you've got to be a stand-up type of person," says Vachon, 52, who with wife Nicole has three children, including Nicholas, a New York Islanders center. "I played when players were smaller, but I was still really small. I took my bruises, but I didn't want to back down. Never."
He didn't. He helped lift the Montreal Canadiens to Stanley Cup titles in 1968, '69 and '71. Those were among the best teams in hockey history—strong up front with bone-jarring defense. "Everybody feared us," he says. "I remember the awe other teams felt. There was no way we could lose."
After he quit in 1982 (he played five years in Montreal, seven in L.A. and briefly with the Detroit Red Wings and the Boston Bruins), Vachon, a Palmarolle, Que., native, didn't dwell on his 355 wins (fifth alltime), his 1976 Canada Cup MVP award and the retiring of his number 30 by the Kings. Instead he looked forward. He has since held virtually every position with L.A., from goaltender coach to head coach to general manager to president to operations officer to his current position, in which, he says, "I mainly work with clients—playing golf, entertaining."
Last year the Kings celebrated their 30th anniversary with an alumni game against some Hollywood stars. Vachon started in goal, his first time in net since retiring. "I practiced, just to make sure I could still skate," he says. "I didn't want to embarrass myself." So? "One goal scored," he says. "But I stood tough." He always has.