Carol Marcel Vadnais
Born: September 25, 1945 (Montréal)
Died: August 31, 2014
Tough-guy defenceman Carol Vadnais twice got his name on the Stanley Cup and played in six All-Star Games.
Vadnais skated for five NHL teams in a 17-year career. He retired at age 37 in 1983, one of the last players from the six-team era.
Often overshadowed by teammates, including Bobby Orr in Boston, Vadnais was a good stickhandler and a superb playmaker when encouraged to play an attacking game. He recorded a career high 74 points (18 goals, 56 assists) in 79 games with the Bruins in 1974-75. But when ordered to stay at home, he abandoned end-to-end rushes in favour of using his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame to punish opposing forwards in front of his net.
A chronic worrier but also known for a puckish sense of humour, Vadnais had an eventful career, including serving as a captain of the woeful California Golden Seals and being part of a blockbuster trade (and then, briefly, failing to report). He was twice taken into custody by police in Philadelphia, once as a suspect in a bank robbery.
Vadnais played major junior hockey for the Notre-Dame-de-Grace Monarchs in his hometown of Montreal, where he befriended Serge Savard, a future member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Vadnais was a forward, but was shifted to defence to play alongside his friend, a move that benefitted them both.
After two seasons with the Junior Canadiens, during which he earned pocket money by sweeping the Forum for $1 an hour, Vadnais joined the parent club’s professional farm team, the Houston Apollos. He was called up and made his debut with the Canadiens on Feb. 26, 1967.
“I got the call that I would be playing at Chicago Stadium,” he recalled a few years ago. “When Toe Blake told me I’d be starting the game and I would be playing with Jacques Laperrière, I didn’t believe him at first. I went to see Lippy to be sure that I heard correctly. It was a game against the Black Hawks and some big name players.”
He played 11 games for the hometown Canadiens over the remainder of the season, being credited with three assists. He also skated in a single playoff game. He scored one goal and added an assist in 31 games in 1967-68, then played in a playoff game, earning the right to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup as the Habs swept the St. Louis Blues in the first post-expansion championship.
Despite his contributions, the Canadiens left him unprotected in the intra-league draft and Vadnais was selected first overall by the sad-sack Oakland Seals. (The Canadiens’ defensive corps included such reliable veterans as Laperrière, Ted Harris, Terry Harper, and J.C. Tremblay. As well, the Montreal braintrust needed to make roster space for two hot prospects — his friend Savard and Guy Lapointe, both future hall of famers.) The Seals allowed Vadnais to play a more freewheeling style and he would score 39 goals in his first two seasons with the club. (He also got called for 363 minutes in penalties.)
In his fourth season in the Bay Area, by which time the club had been renamed the California Golden Seals, and for which he served as captain, Vadnais was traded to the powerhouse Boston Bruins on Feb. 23, 1972.
“I wondered how the guys would accept me,” he later told the Montreal Gazette. “Here I was a French guy going to a team with only one other French guy on it (Don Marcotte) and I didn’t know what to expect. Also, they were in first place and I wondered what they needed me for.”
At first, he was paired with Dallas Smith, but both had a tendency to rush the puck and Vadnais was caught up ice too often. He was then teamed with stay-at-home Don Awrey and by adjusting his own style the pair made an effective duo. He played 16 regular-season games and another 15 in the playoffs as the Bruins rolled to their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons.
In December, 1972, Vadnais was arrested by Philadelphia police after tussling with a fan at the Spectrum. The man had leaned over the glass of the penalty box to shout at Vadnais, who waved his stick at him. The scene degenerated after the fan tried to grab the stick, as Vadnais pulled it back and whacked the fan. The referee did not call a penalty on the defenceman, but the police sought him out after the match. He was taken to police headquarters for 90 minutes of questioning, but was not charged.
Two months later, once again in Philadelphia for a game, Vadnais was sitting in the lobby of a hotel when four FBI agents rushed in and took him into custody. They led him to a nearby bank that had just been robbed, saying he fitted the description of the culprit. “While I’m waiting in the bank, I’m thinking to myself, ‘What if someone thinks it’s me?’ ” he said. The teller said he was not the man and Vadnais was released.
Early in his fifth campaign with the Bruins, Vadnais was traded with star forward Phil Esposito to the New York Rangers for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi, a deal that shocked the hockey world. Vadnais did not report, missing three Rangers games, as he insisted he had a no-trade clause in his contract with the Bruins. As well, his wife was undergoing surgery and he wished to be with her. In the end, he got a cash payout from the Bruins.
Vadnais great skill as a defenceman saw him named to the defensive corps of Team Canada for the Canada Cup tournament in 1976. The other defencemen included Orr, Savard, Lapointe, Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin and Jimmy Watson. Only Vadnais and Watson have not been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 1981, Vadnais skated in his 1000th NHL game (he would play in 1,087), becoming only the 44th player in league history to reach that milestone. By then, however, the Rangers had soured on the aging rear-guard, as coach Herb Brooks was a stickler for conditioning and Vadnais had the highest measurement of body fat during training camp and was known to smoke a large cigar after most games. As well, Vadnais was upset Brooks had not reached out to him in the offseason when the coach was in Montréal. “Being the oldest guy on the team, I thought maybe he should have called me,” Vadnais told the New York Times.
Brooks benched Vadnais for the season opener, as well as for six of the team’s first eight games, five of which the Rangers lost. He was back in the lineup. “The best thing you can do is shut up and do what you’re told to do. It wasn’t like I was down to my last penny. I’m OK there. There was no reason to panic. But I said to myself, I play because I still like to play.”
The Rangers placed him on waivers at the end of the season and Vadnais finished his playing career by playing 51 games for the New Jersey Devils in 1982-83.
He scored 169 goals with 587 assists in his NHL career. He had 10 goals and 40 assists in 106 playoff games.
Vadnais worked as an assistant coach with the Rangers and later as a pro scout for the Canadiens. He was also general manager of the Verdun Junior Canadiens, during which he got into an altercation with a scout employed by a rival team, shaking the man by the shoulders and knocking him to the ground.
In recent years, he has been a commercial and industrial real-estate agent in the Montréal suburb of Laval.
Vadnais died of cancer on Aug. 31. He leaves a daughter and two granddaughters.
The great wrestler Andre the Giant hoists Carol Vadnais (left) and Bobby Orr.