Note: I’ve tried – and failed – numerous times to come up with some sort of “theme” for this blog. I think this post is officially my White Flag. I write about what I want to write about. It will be hit or miss with most readers. I’ve made my peace with this. Sort of.
You want to know who’s cool? Georges Vézina, that’s who. He’s so interesting, I feel I must tell you more about him.
If the name sounds familiar, or even vaguely so, it’s because the current National Hockey League annually awards a trophy bearing his name to the “best freaking goaltender in the whole damn league” (I’m paraphrasing here). And I’m pretty sure you’ve got to be pretty freaking special to have a “best of” trophy named after you.
And special our boy was. First, there’s the issue of his birth name: Joseph-Georges-Gonzague Vézina. It’s about as French-Canadian (thus, novel [to me]; thus, cool [to me]) as it gets, eh? I suppose Joseph-Georges-Gonzague was a bit of a mouthful for sa mère to be yelling around the house (she’d had seven other kids before him, after all), so Georges it was.
As was likely All The Rage back in 1901, he left school at the age of 14 to help son papa in the old man’s bakery. Yep, descended from an immigrant baker. Bonus Novelty Points.
And then there’s the hockey thing. More specifically, the ice-hockey-goaltender thing. It takes a fairly rare specimen to willingly play goal today, much less in 1910, when Vezina made his first exhibition start for the Montreal Canadiens. Remember here, this was avant-Vaughn, avant-Bauer, avant-Reebok: they didn’t need no stinkin’ face masks.
Yikes, eh? Hard core.
For sixteen seasons- count’em: seven in the NHA, nine in the NHL, all with the Habs – ol’ Georges toiled between the pipes, playing for 327 consecutive regular season games.* During his career, the Canadiens won two Stanley Cups and appeared in the Finals three more times. And let’s talk hard numbers here: Lead the League in Goals Against Average seven times (runner-up an additional five times). During the 1924-25 season (his last full season played), his GAA was 1.81.
He was 38 at the time.
Bon travail, Monsieur!
Vezina also had the distinction of being an all-around swell guy. His nicknames:
le Concombre de Chicoutimi
(The Cucumber of Chicoutimi – a reference to his calmness and the rural Quebec town of his birth)
(the Silent Habitant – again referring to his quiet, steady presence on the Canadiens, affectionately known as “the Habitants,” or, now: “Habs”)
So steady, so dependable was that his 327-game streak was broken only by his collapse on the ice during a game in 1925. TB, it was, and his career (and sadly, life) ended quickly thereafter.
Let me make this clear: this beast of a man was playing through tuberculosis. Damn, son! (note: I think some professional athletes have a lesson or two to learn from this example. Not that I condone infecting one’s team with a highly-contagious disease, but I think one can play through a hangnail, say, or an owie on their toesies).
After Vezina’s death, Canadiens manager Leo Dandurand “told reporters Vezina ‘speaks no English and has twenty-two children, including three sets of triplets, and they were all born in the space of nine years.’”** Okay, so that was not true; he apparently spoke some English and had two sons (with his wife, at least). But one only hears (and spreads) rumors about such, uh, copious parentage when one is dealing with the Man’s Man: it’s seen as impressive (or weird, or wrong—depends on how you look at it I suppose). In this way, Vezina was also a symbol of virility.
This revered, respected, admired and adored epitome of the Greatness of the Early Game fascinates me, and I hope you found these tidbits of trivia and history at least basically intriguing.
If not, you should probably maybe not subscribe to this blog any longer.
*Or 328; I’ve seen both numbers quoted.
BabelFish text translation
(Sorry, high school French teacher. I don’t remember anything)