Rogie and Quick
What are Rogie Vachon’s impressions of Jonathan Quick on the verge of having his franchise wins mark surpassed?
Los Angeles Kings goaltending records have been under assault for the last three years as Jonathan Quick has emerged as one of his generation’s finest performers in net. He’s only 28 years old, but given the team’s play heading into this home stand, his name will almost certainly be attached to another significant team record – most franchise wins – by the time the Kings hit the road later this month.
“Moving from one side to another, it’s just incredible how fast he is,” said Rogie Vachon, who won a franchise record 171 games with the Kings between 1971 and 1978 and watches every Kings game.
“He saves a lot of goals that way, because the player all of a sudden, it’s a one-pass, a quick shot, and he’s right there. The player thinks he’s got an open net, and all of a sudden, bang! It’s not.”
Now with 170 career wins to his name, Quick’s first National Hockey League cup of coffee came in the 2007-08 season. But it wasn’t until December, 2008, when he was a mid-season call-up over top prospect Jonathan Bernier, when the flashes of goaltending proficiency began to appear inside a crease that had been adeptly filled by Vachon in the 1970’s, and other than several hot streaks by Mario Lessard, Kelly Hrudey and Felix Potvin, little in the way of any sustained success.
After six career starts, Quick had posted shutouts over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Phoenix Coyotes. By the end of his rookie 2008-09 season, his 2.48 goals-against average was the fifth-lowest single season mark in franchise history, and only the third time someone with as many as 44 games played posted a goals-against average under 2.50.
Even when he was constructing among the finest back-to-back goaltending campaigns in club history in 2008-09 and 2009-10, it was assumed that he was simply keeping the seat warm for Bernier, a much more widely known commodity who was selected in the first round in 2006 and was also posting fine numbers at AHL-Manchester.
But it was Quick who appeared in a franchise record 72 games in 2009-10, and it was Quick who started all six games against the Vancouver Canucks in the team’s first playoff series in eight seasons. All of a sudden there were raised eyebrows about an emerging Los Angeles team, not that they affected those who worked within the borders of the team’s facility.
“We’ve always had expectations of winning a Cup every year, so nothing has changed inside the locker room,” Quick said. “It’s now people outside the locker room see that we have a good team now and now their expectations are up there.”
That expectation was realized with a Stanley Cup in 2012, a crowning achievement by a franchise that relied on a goaltender who that year had bested Vachon’s franchise-record shutout streak of 184 minutes and 55 seconds with a 202-minute, 11-second streak of his own, and surpassed Vachon’s eight shutouts from 1976-77 with an astounding 10.
And that’s fine with Vachon on the precipice of having his franchise wins mark bested.
“Let’s put it this way – it’s not going to be the last record that he’s going to break if he stays healthy and plays another six, seven [years]. He’s going to put up some really good numbers.”
Vachon suffered a knee injury in his first season with the Kings that limited him to just 28 games. He also didn’t rely on the opportunity to earn additional wins by virtue of overtime or a shootout.
Still, there exists the desire to have broadened his own goaltending numbers.
“I wish I could have played five or six more years to put up some better numbers for other goalies to come and get them,” he said. “But you’ve got to give him credit. That kid is very consistent. He plays very solid, is a great citizen, and I’m very happy for him.”
“We had a different style in my days. It was more like stay up and challenge and that kind of stuff. When we started playing against the Russians, they started bringing the game instead of wingers staying on their wings and shooting, the game is going sideways now. It started with the Russians, and we had to keep up with that, and now every team is doing the same things, and the goalies seem to be much bigger now, and don’t forget they have such incredible equipment. They play the angles, they just stand there, and challenge the players to hit them or hit the holes, and it seems to work with most of the goalies. But in my days, it was more like track the puck and find it and kick it out. Now they swallow the puck all the time with their bodies. It’s a completely different game.”
Though Quick is inclined to defer the credit to those around him, this streak may strike a chord with him to a greater degree than other statistics such as shutout streaks or save percentages – statistics that don’t have a direct correlation to the team’s spot in the standings.
“When you think of accomplishments, you always think of wins. I’ve been very fortunate to be on, since I’ve come into the league, a team that’s been a playoff team,” Quick said. “I’ve been lucky to have the group around me that helps win games. Obviously, at the end of the day, what you’re looking for in a goalie – you’re looking for someone that wins games and that’s kind of a byproduct of the team around them. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great group of guys to play with and we’ve had some success over the past four or five years.”
The Kings had laid the foundation for future success when Quick was in the early stages of his career, though when Vachon first joined Los Angeles five years into the team’s existence, there was little in the way of team identity – let alone the type of defense that Quick has worked with for much of his tenure.
“When I first came in in ’71, the Kings were just a terrible team. We were almost out of the playoffs by Christmastime,” Vachon said. “So me, coming from the Montreal Canadiens, and we won three Cups in four years while I was there, it really was a culture shock when I came in. But we had a bad team for a couple years.
“Then, when Bob Pulford came in, that was the coach, he installed a nice system and everybody bought in that system, and then we became a very decent team, and it was a lot more fun to play behind these guys, because the first two years, they were pretty bad.”
There have been fundamental advances in goaltending over the last 30 years, not only in the evolution in style as described by Vachon, but also in the way the teams develop and instruct their goalies.
“You can see the goalies are much bigger and stronger, and you can see that most of these goalies are going to goalie school early and working on their weaknesses right away, so when you come up to the junior rank or to college, their fundamental game is much stronger than we used to have. Now they go to the minors – the minor leagues are really fantastic for the young players coming in to work on their game. In the past, 20, 25 years ago, minor league [teams] were owned by owners from the city, and it was imperative that the team had to win. And now, it’s totally different. Most of the teams own their own minor league franchises, and they work with their kids. Win or lose, they stay with them and train them. So it’s a big difference, really, for the last 30 years.”
Quick actually appeared in more games with ECHL-Reading than AHL-Manchester during his first taste of professional hockey between 2007 and the middle of 2008. By the time he joined the Kings for good midway through the 2008-09 season, there was confidence in his ability that grew with every start.
Anze Kopitar, who noted that he’s “extremely proud” of Quick’s success in capturing many of many team goaltending records, articulated the ascendency by the franchise netminder.
“He’s always been solid. I think once it was his turn to, I guess, emerge and step up, he did it,” Kopitar said. “He always had the right mindset. He always works hard. I guess when it was time to shine, he stepped up and he showed everybody that he’s definitely a number-one on this team and he’s been proving it for three years now, and proving it with an exclamation point.”
“We definitely wouldn’t be to this stage where we’re at without him.”