Monday, December 31, 2012
December 31, 1910: Georges Vezina made his debut with the Montreal Canadiens.
In February of 1910, an exhibition game brought the Canadiens to his hometown to take on the local team. Vezina performed so well in the exhibition game that the Montreal club tried persuading him to come and play with them. Initially Vezina would turn the team down. In December of the same year the Canadiens came back to town, this time they were able to convince Vezina to join their team and signed him to a staggering $800 contract, by today's standard that would be close to $20,000. On December 31, 1910, Vezina took his spot between the pipes for the Canadiens, he would remain between those pipes until November of 1925.
When Vezina came to Montreal the team was a member of the National Hockey Association, the NHA was the forerunner to the NHL. He had success early, nicknamed "The Chicoutimi Cucumber" because he was cool as a cucumber when he was in net, Vezina would lead the league in his first three seasons with the lowest goals against average. He would get his first shot at a Stanley Cup Title following the '13-14 season, when his team ended up in a tie with the Toronto Blueshirts it forced a 2 game total goal playoff. Vezina was able to shutout the Toronto team in the first game but then gave up 6 goals in the second game which pushed the Blueshirts onto the Stanley Cup Finals where they won it all. The Canadiens had a rough season the next time around, losing 14 of 18 games caused them to miss the playoffs. They bounced back in the 1915-'16 campaign by finishing at the top of the NHA, it would set the table for them to meet the Pacific Hockey Association's Portland Rosebuds in the Stanley Cup Finals. It was a best of 5 series to decide who took home the hardware. The series went the distance with Vezina playing his ass off. The night of Game 5, Montreal not only won their first cup in the history of their franchise, Vezina's second son was born, it was great night for the netminder.
Vezina and the Canadiens would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals following the '18-'19 season, it was a 5 game series that set them up to avenge their 1917 Cup loss to the Seattle Metropolitans. With both teams tied 2 all, Game 5 was set to take place in Seattle. Before either team stepped on the ice for game 5 the series was cancelled because of the Spanish flu epidemic, a particularly deadly version of the flu that killed an estimated 20-50 million people worldwide. This would be the first time the Stanley Cup was not awarded to a team. It wouldn't be until the '23-24 season that they would find themselves back in The Finals, Montreal took on the Calgary Tigers in the best of three, with the Canadiens sweeping the series in two games. It was Vezina's second championship and the first time the Montreal won Lord Stanley's Cup as a member of the NHL. They did go to The Finals again the next season, but would lose to the Victoria Cougars.
When Vezina arrived for camp for the '25-'26 campaign he was noticeably sick. He had lost significant weight and was not looking well at all, some disregarded it because he was a thin and pale guy already and nobody expected what was to come. The Canadiens opened the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates, after getting through the first period without allowing a goal, Vezina was seen in the locker room coughing up blood, he still attempted to go back out and play. Vezina didn't make it long, after collapsing near the goal he was replaced by Alponse Lacroix. It was the first time since 1910 the goalie had to have a substitute come into a game for him. Sadly it would be the last time Vezina took to the ice. The very next day he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was advised to return home. On December 3, 1925 Vezina stood before his team one last time, with tears rolling down his cheeks he said goodbye to his second family, I would imagine it was one of the hardest days in his life. Vezina and his wife Marie returned to his hometown of Chicoutimi, where he spent the last few months of his life. Georges Vezina passed away on March 27th of 1926. Even with the fact he only played one game that season the organization still paid his $6,000 salary in full, it showed what he had meant to team.