Top goalies in the NHL earn the Vezina Trophy. The man honored by the naming of the trophy came to a sad end following his final moments in net on November 28, 1925.The Montreal Canadiens pre-dated the NHL, and so did their goalie, Georges Vezina. In early 1910, when the new Canadiens, of the National Hockey Association (NHA), played an exhibition game against le Club de Hockey Chicoutimi, their goalie/coach attempted to recruit Chicoutimi’s goalie, the game’s top star. Vezina waited, auditioned, made a gentlemen’s agreement instead of a formal contract, and skated with the Canadiens as of the last day of 1910. He played goal for the Canadiens without a break for 328 regular-season and 39 postseason games.
Vezina had a reputation for being stoic and cool under pressure. His “calmness not of this world” gave him the nickname “Chicoutimi Cucumber.” His quiet nature led to the nicknames “l’Habitant silencieux” (the Silent Habitant) and “le Chevreuil” (the Deer). Philosophically, he admired “fair play,” writing “Quebec and its English-speaking sister provinces cannot have too many sports flags flying, because those flags always teach respect for rules and adversaries.” However, he still celebrated with his teammates and gave them plenty to celebrate as a top notch goaltender.
When the 1925-26 season began, Vezina looked “pale and haggard” but refused to complain. He had a high fever but still started in the opening game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, on November 28. After 20 minutes, just as the second period began, purportedly Vezina collapsed with “blood seeping from his mouth.” According to the Montreal Gazette, Vezina did not come out of the locker room for the second period and for the first time in his 18-year career was “forced to drop out of play.” Although he hoped to rejoin the game, the Canadiens played Lacroix, “former United States Olympic goalkeeper,” who let in the only goal of the game. It turned out that Vezina had tuberculosis. He spent the last four months of his life back home in Chicoutimi before his death on March 27, 1926.
The following season, the Canadiens owners (Leo Dandurand, Louis Letourneau, and Joe Cattarinich) donated a memorial trophy in his honor, making him the first NHL player to have a trophy named for him. The Georges Vezina Memorial Trophy originally was awarded to the goalie with the lowest goals against average. From 1947 to 1981, the Vezina Trophy was awarded to the goalie allowing the lowest number of goals. Currently, the NHL general managers vote for “the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position.”
Billy Smith, of the New York Islanders, received the first Vezina Trophy chosen by the modern method. He received the award for the 1981-82 season. Just two seasons earlier, on November 28, 1979, Smith became the first NHL goalie credited for scoring a goal. According to Smith, Colorado Rockies defenseman Rob Ramage shot on Smith who then picked up the bounce before trying to pass. No one caught the pass, so the puck went into the empty net. “Who was the last guy on the other team to touch the puck? It was me, so I got credit for the goal.”
- “Another Surprise When Pittsburgh Beat Canadiens,” Montreal Gazette, 30 Nov. 1925, p. 22.
- “Georges Vezina, Veteran Hockey Goalkeeper, Dead,” Montreal Gazette, 27 March 1926, p. 22.