When word came that Rogie Vachon would be part of the 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class, no one was more surprised than the longtime Montreal Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings goaltender who hadn't played an NHL game in more than three decades. But from his time as a player, general manager and team ambassador with the Kings, he witnessed firsthand the remarkable growth of hockey in California. His role in the sport's development in the state, which went into overdrive when he traded for Wayne Gretzky in 1988, might be his ultimate legacy in the sport.
Just a few months before his official Hall of Fame induction in November, Vachon sat down with ESPN.com to look back on a lengthy hockey career and the shock of an honor that was decades in the making.
ESPN.com: You're going to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame almost 35 years after you retired. Did you think you were still eligible?
Rogie Vachon: I wasn't quite sure how long you could be eligible. It looks like there is no time limit, really. I totally forgot about it and said, 'It's not going to happen.' Certain things in life you can't control, and that's one of them. I'm not going to worry about it. All of a sudden, out of the blue ...
ESPN.com: Where were you when you got the news?
Vachon: I was at home when I got the call from Lanny McDonald. My son was there. He was the first one to find out from the family. Then I got a bunch of calls after. Everybody was surprised. That martini tasted even better that night.
ESPN.com: What are your memories from when you first arrived in Los Angeles after being traded by the Canadiens in 1971?
Vachon: It was totally different. It was really a culture shock. I'm coming in from Montreal, where we won three Cups in four years. Then I come to L.A. and we really had a very bad team the first couple of years I was there. In Montreal at that time, we couldn't afford to lose two games in a row. Then you come to L.A. and every time you win a game we were happy.
ESPN.com: Things turned around when Bob Pulford became Kings coach. How much did the game grow in L.A. at that time?
Vachon: In 1974-75, we were filling the building on many occasions. When I first came in, we were lucky to have 10,000 people at the games. It was a big difference. All of a sudden a lot of people started coming to the games and getting interested.
ESPN.com: Most of your time as a player and executive with the Kings, you shared a building with former Lakers player/coach/executive Jerry West. How much did you get to know him in the 1970s and '80s?
Vachon: Especially when I was the GM, Jerry West used to come into my office all the time and we would chat. I was good friends with these guys. They were very nice. They wanted us to do well. It was pretty cool. He used to sometimes out of the blue show up in my office in the morning and sit down, and we would chat for half an hour and then he would go back in his office. That was very nice of him.
ESPN.com: Youth hockey and development has grown tremendously in California over the years. Could you imagine that happening when you first arrived in L.A.?
Vachon: No, because youth hockey was not very popular in those days. The good kids really had nowhere to go unless they went back east to a prep school. But things have changed so much in California, it's incredible. Hockey is so big. Gradually youth hockey got better and now the Kings have been selling out every game for the last five or six years. They just fill the building every game.
ESPN.com: Speaking of the Kings, how do you think Jonathan Quick's style compares to your own?
Vachon: He's a totally different style. In my days, we used to stand up and cover the angles. Now everybody goes down on their knees on every shot. It's totally different. Mentally he's pretty much like I was when I was playing. A bad goal doesn't bother him. He keeps fighting all the time. He's really a fighter. Technically, he's very sound. But when he's tired or gives up a bad goal, he just keeps coming back. Now, if you're not 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, you better be pretty quick. Now it's all about positioning yourself and having the puck hit you. In my days, we had to go find the puck and kick it away. It's a big difference.
ESPN.com: You had a great run with Team Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup. With the World Cup coming up, how do you look at international competition?
Vachon: When you play for your country, it's totally different from playing for your team. Now you represent the whole country. There is a lot more pressure to perform than with your regular team. It's like one big playoff. That was a wonderful experience for me. It's very competitive. There are probably three or four teams that are good enough to win the gold [in the World Cup].
ESPN.com: What are your most memorable moments from the 1976 Canada Cup?
Vachon: Playing all the games, that was really something special. Winning the Cup and being the MVP of Team Canada was something, especially having all those superstars on the team. That was phenomenal. I was in the zone playing well but also I had some great defensemen to take care of rebounds and that kind of stuff. Bobby Orr, even with his bad knees, was very, very good.
ESPN.com: Did you think you would play every game?
Vachon: Not really. I think we had six goalies at training camp and it was a pretty long training camp. All of a sudden I was chosen to start the series, and I just kept winning and winning. But it took everybody to beat the Czechs in the final. We had to go to overtime to beat them. Everybody had to chip in.
ESPN.com: Do people still ask you about that tournament, 40 years later?
Vachon: Over the years, people keep bringing it up. Especially the fans. They always have something from Team Canada for me to sign. I get something every week.
ESPN.com: Where does that rank in your favorite career moments?
Vachon: It's got to be right on top with winning three Cups in Montreal. When you play for your country and you win, it's pretty awesome.
ESPN.com: You'll be enshrined in the Hall of Fame with Pat Quinn, who was your coach when you were GM in Los Angeles. How special is that for you?
Vachon: We started out together in the minors with the Montreal Canadiens' farm team in Houston. That is how I met him. Later on, when I became the GM, I brought him in as a coach to L.A. He was very tough. When he pounded that big fist on the table, everyone would listen.