By Dreux Zimmer
Nick Vachon is no stranger to a hockey filled life. The son of Kings legendary goaltender Rogie Vachon, Nick watched his father play professionally and then saw his dad take over the Kings as General Manger. The younger Vachon played pro hockey before a turn to the entertainment side of Los Angeles as he enjoyed stints in such films as S.W.A.T., Clark, the Canadian Hockey Goalie and The Patriot.
Nick, who is at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo a lot now as a coach for the Jr. Kings, recently spoke with LAKings.com about his childhood, his hockey playing days through adulthood, his lone NHL game with the New York Islanders, his new career within the entertainment industry, and his experience with those Jr. Kings.
Q: What are your earliest memories of hockey?
A: I can remember when I was two or three years old when my dad was playing at the Forum with the Kings. I remember being able to go out on the Forum ice before practice and then when the guys started to come out I would get off and start running around the Forum. Then, after practice, we would go out on the ice again for a little while.
Q: What was it like to grow up as the son of a famous hockey player?
A: For me it was really cool because I got to be in the locker room and be around those types of guys. It was normal for me, but it was probably more fun for my friends because they could come to the games and come in and meet the players -- they loved that.
Q: When did you realize that you were good at hockey and maybe had a future as a pro?
A: When I first started, I wanted to play goalie like my dad. When I was about eight I went to a hockey school and played one week as a goalie and one week as a forward. When I played forward the second week, I just scored a ton and thought, ‘This is more fun!’ When I was younger I was able to score a lot of goals, skate around people and I was pretty good. I always dreamed of playing pro, but probably when I was playing at BU [Boston University] and Juniors is when I had the goal of trying to keep working and keep getting better. When I left for the WHL and the Portland Winterhawks, that’s when it became a little more realistic and I realized the route I wanted to go.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs and your movement from different leagues?
A: I was drafted out of high school -- we had a really good prep school team. We had four or five guys get drafted that year, and one of them was a good friend of mine and ex-Los Angeles King -- Eric Lacroix. He and I were drafted in the same year to the Toronto Maple Leafs and I was really excited about that. I was a super late draft pick at the end of the day It was something I didn’t expect, but when I saw a lot of guys I played with and against getting drafted around me including Eric and his brother I hoped it would happen and it did.
Q: What are your memories of your time with the Kings organization as a player when your dad worked as a front office executive?
A: For me growing up with him as a GM, I got to see an inside-look on how it works. I was really lucky and although my dad wouldn’t tell me everything, I got to see and hear a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes. I actually knew Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Kings about a month before it was announced to the public and had to keep it quite. Not easy when you're 13 years old. When I played for the Kings he wasn’t the GM anymore, but he was in the front office still. I’ve always been proud of him and he has obviously accomplished an amazing things in his career as a player and as General Manager.
Q: Can you talk about your time with the Islanders and your one game in the NHL?
A: It was one of the greatest days in my life! My dad had gotten a call before I did from Mike Milbury because he played with Mike in Boston and they decided they were going to call me up. It was a total shock to me because our team in the minors was full of NHL players. We had guys like Ray Whitney, Jimmy Dowd, Mick Vukota and Todd Bertuzzi who was sent down for a few weeks. One of the highlights for me, other than obviously playing in the game was getting to play in my first game against the Kings. I knew a lot of the players and my friends back home were able to watch the game on TV. Even better, I was asked to do the 1st period intermission interview with Bob Miller and Jimmy Fox. We won the game and after practice the next day I got called back into Mike Milbury's office and he let me know that I was being sent down for a couple bigger forwards. It was quick but definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Q: What is your role in the entertainment industry and how did you break in?
A: When I was finishing up playing during my last couple of years in the minors, I had done a few commercials, and I just loved it. When I was finished playing hockey I was looking for stuff to do to keep busy so I started to get involved with the Jr. Kings and coaching, but at the same time I wanted to get into the acting stuff. I took some acting classes and went out on auditions and was lucky enough to book a bunch of commercials over the years as well as some national stuff that I was able to make some money from. At the same time I taught myself how to edit and ended up starting my own company editing and producing content for corporate clients, which is what I do now full time.
Q: Was the transition from professional hockey to the movie industry challenging for you?
A: Definitely. I was just kind of learning how everything operated, and trying to figure out how to get myself in the entertainment industry, and it was tough. I did a couple acting things here and there, but trying to find work was difficult. So yeah, it definitely was a hard transition.
Q: What is it like to coach for the Jr. Kings?
A: I love it! I really have been enjoying it especially this year. I’ve been doing it for a long time now, almost 15 years. I like working with the kids, coaching and being apart of the program. Now that my son is seven and a first year travel player, I’m coaching his team and having more fun than ever because it’s personal.
Q: What does it mean to you and your family to have three generations of Vachons playing hockey?
A: It’s pretty cool. I think it’s fun because Calvin [Nick’s son] is a goalie, and he is actually the opposite of me. I wanted to stay out and score goals and he wants nothing to do with that. He just wants to stay back, play defense and stop the puck. What I enjoy is my dad comes to all the games and I think he’s having more fun than I am just watching Calvin improve.
Q: How do you view the pro game now?
A: For me, I think it’s the best sport in the world. I think people don’t realize how talented these guys are. They’re huge, fast, strong and smart, and everybody can play. Whether you’re a tough guy or a goal scorer, everybody can play at such a high level. I think that people underestimate how good these guys are, and what they are doing on the ice. The goaltenders are unbelievable today. For me, it’s fun and I enjoy it. I like watching the games now, especially now that my son loves it and we go to all the games. But personally, I think it’s by far the best sport out there.
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