In today’s NHL, it is known that many goaltenders age very well and still have fantastic seasons in their twilight years. The early NHL was no different and Georges Vezina is proof of that. Vezina, born in 1887, began his pro career at the age of 23 in the NHA with the Montreal Canadiens in their second season of existence, the 1910-11 season. Vezina led the NHA in goal against average and did the very same in the following season. Vezina remained with the Canadiens over the next few years in the NHA, perfecting the standing style required by goaltenders at the time, due the rule against falling to the ice.
In 1916, Vezina led his Canadiens to their first Stanley Cup with a victory over the PCHA’s Portland Rosebuds. By the time the Canadiens made the transition to the NHL, Vezina was already 31 years old and a well-established star. He led the NHL in wins, GAA, and tied Clint Benedict for the lead in shutouts with one. For every season following that, Vezina played in every single game except for his last season. While Benedict often led the league in most goaltending statistics, Vezina was never far behind.
It’s worth noting however, the age difference between Benedict and Vezina. Benedict was five years younger, so the fact that Vezina could keep up at all was impressive. In the 1923-24 season, at the age of 37, Vezina finally again beat out Benedict and led the league in GAA with 1.97 in 24 games. He also led the Canadiens to their first NHL Stanley Cup in that season. The following season, Vezina somehow outdid himself at 38 years old and managed a stellar 1.81 GAA, again leading the league, this time playing in all 30 games, as the NHL had begun to add teams and therefore more games to the schedule.
It seemed that eventually Vezina’s body would quit out on him, playing so many games at such an advanced age in the NHL. It was noticed in the training camp before the 1925-26 season that Vezina was sweating much more than usual and was clearly not healthy. He still began the first game of the season, but had to leave after one period despite not letting in any goals in the first 20 minutes. It was discovered that Vezina had advanced tuberculosis and would have to retire from the game. Vezina passed away a number of months later at the age of 39 in March of 1926.
Prior to the next season, the Vezina trophy was established to be awarded to the goaltender adjudged to be the best at his position. The first winner was George Hainsworth, the man replacing Vezina in net for the Canadiens. Vezina retired at 2nd place all-time in both games and wins to Clint Benedict and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945 as one of the first 12 people inducted in that year.