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Monday, June 27, 2016

Vindication Comes in Many Forms

This column is sparked by some big news...a culmination of forty passionate years towards the media and sports...and two decades of living with a past failure.

You could call today the craziest day in my NHL history. You would definitely be right if not for that 2012 Stanley Cup win by the Los Angeles Kings as an eight seed.

So what's the big news you ask?

The great Los Angeles Kings goaltender, Rogie Vachon, has been named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Class of 2016. I've been crying about his omission to the Hall since the mid-90s (see the newspaper clipping below) when I looked up and noticed that he wasn't in.

I know some of you must be tired with all of the hockey talk, but before I get to the headlines and the AD OF THE WEEK/MONTH/WHATEVER, I have to tell you why this is important to me. And...if you've ever had something that drove you to a career where you are passionate about it, you connect with me once you get to the bottom.

Trust me for a second, will you?
Rogie Vachon strikes a familiar pose.

So big deal, right? An athlete gets into a museum. If that's your thought, pull up a chair for a minute. A quick minute.

California wasn't ready for hockey. It's hard to export a sport to where most are unfamiliar with the game and worse in this case because no one in Los Angeles ever saw hockey on local television in the 1960s (or the 1970s for that matter).

Imagine dropping the wildly popular Spanish sport Bossaball into your neighborhood and expecting you to pick it up overnight. No one would get it. No one did.

Even ownership was frustrated. Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of the Los Angeles Kings, would groan: "They told me there were 300,000 Canadians who'd moved to Southern California. How was I to know that they were the 300,000 Canadians who didn't like hockey?"

Hockey was definitely on life support in its early California years. Then along came Rogie Vachon and a young Media Guy was dazzled.

I went to about one hundred and sixty Kings games between 1973 and 1976. There was room for 16,005 fans for hockey, but usually I was there with around 9,000 of my closest hockey friends. I was a junkie for my ice time. I spent time in the owners office. I had access to the crevices of the Fabulous Forum and memorized the layout of the arena looking for ways to catch better glimpses of the players. Sometimes, the maintenance crew would retrieve broken sticks and give them to me. My favorite, of course was the Victoriaville goalie stick with a two-inch crack in the blade and "VACHON" boldly stamped in black on the shaft near the top of huge taped knob. At five, six and seven years old, it wasn't rare that I would go to games by myself. I knew all of the ushers and the people in the ticket offices. The Forum as family.

But, the only reason I went was because of Vachon.

This one player alone let me know I should be in the media world. I had to find a way to show people how to see great things. Whether it be making commercials to drive people to products or running the media department of an NHL franchise, I knew media was calling me. I never stopped driving to that place where I could call media my home.

At 5 foot 7, he was larger than life. He did interviews with a stogie in tow. On the ice he often had to stand on his head, willing the terrible Kings to victory with his acrobatic ways and quick glove. In the 1974-75 season my Kings earned 105 points, which is still a club record. Vachon was named player of the year by The Hockey News. That was a big deal. Not only did he put up one of the best seasons as a goaltender, but also because someone outside of the Los Angeles area code noticed we had a hockey team.

He was THE reason hockey existed in Los Angeles and apparently I am not alone in my thinking:

1995 article in the Los Angeles Daily News on Vachon
“What great timing to be able to celebrate the guy that we feel, if it wasn’t for him, we don’t know if the L.A. Kings would still be on the map,” said Hall of Fame left wing Luc Robitaille, the Kings’ president of business operations who was actually drafted by Vachon in 1984. “You think of the California Golden Seals — disappeared. The Colorado Rockies disappeared. Kansas City disappeared. He was the first true superstar the Kings had.”
Fast forward to 1995 and Vachon, despite being in the top five all-time in wins, a bunch of NHL and International championships, and a pioneer in saving hockey in the Sunbelt, is not in the Hall of Fame. Do you think anyone noticed? Nope. Nada. Nothing.

Here's the crazy part...who do you think handled the nomination process for Vachon that year? The Kings? A hockey writer? Someone on the Hall of Fame's Veteran's Committee? Nope. Nada. No one.

I had to handle it! That's where you put the emphasis on crazy. I met with my boyhood hero many times and we worked out a plan as I gathered as much information as I could in a pre-Internet fact finding mission. I worked the voting committee pretty hard, making phone calls, meeting the Hall of Fame Chairman Scotty Morrison and putting together a pretty impressive media kit.  It was looking good that a severe right would be wronged. Alas, there would be no Cinderella story here. In one of the the truly puzzling decisions I had seen at the time, when the class of 1996 was announced Rogie Vachon was not on the list. I found out before he did. I don't think I spoke for a week.

Imagine a local fan having to handle the nomination.
About two week's later when I spoke with Morrison via phone, he offered little hope that a player that had been passed over 15 or so time already would ever be elected to the Hall of Fame. With that I gave up hope...silently, and forever.

At 28 years old, that was my biggest defeat in the public relations world. I wasn't quite a rock star in the PR world, but I was climbing. When I had a client who needed results, I succeeded. Always.

That defeat set me back. Left me reeling. I would give up the PR game and move over to the Media and Advertising Worlds. It worked out for me. But the fact that Rogie was not in the Hockey Hall of Fame always gnawed at me. Until this week, when I simple little notification from my LA Kings app rang to my iPhone:

"Rogie Vachon has been inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2016"

Today stands as the second greatest day in my hockey life because after twenty-one years of feeling like I failed an NHL legend and ultimate the craft I called a career, I feel vindicated. How crazy is that?

Congrats Rogie! You deserve it.


Here's the Hockey Hall Of Fame report thirtysomething years in the making:


Rogie Vachon Mid-Seventies Newspaper Tribute Cartoon



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Miami Ad School Toronto by John St.
Critiquing Your Portfolio

To make it in advertising, you need people who tell you the truth. Brutal honesty. Tough love. At the Miami Ad School Toronto this is what you'll get, but not necessarily what you'll get from everyone else. This little vignette shows some good new for the burgeoning ad man being questioned about his portfolio. Soon, however, the truth becomes painfully obvious.