Blackhawks Hall of Fame goalie Tony Esposito dies at 78
Tony Esposito made an immediate mark on the Chicago Blackhawks and a lasting impression on the NHL.
Esposito, the Hall of Fame pioneer who spent most of his 16-year career with the Blackhawks, has died following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, the team said on Tuesday. He was 78 years old.
Esposito made his debut for Montreal in the 1968-69 season and appeared in 13 games. He was then left unprotected with the Canadiens among goaltenders and picked up by the Blackhawks in a intraleague draft for $ 25,000, an investment that immediately paid off for a team that had just finished last in the league. its division.
Esposito helped lead the Blackhawks to first place, showcasing his butterfly style to post a 2.17 goals-against average and 15 shutouts, still a modern record for an NHL goaltender. He won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year as well as the Vézina Trophy awarded to the best goaltender. He also won the Vézina in 1972 and 1974.
“Tony was one of the most important and popular figures in franchise history as we approach his 100th birthday,” said Blackhawks president Rocky Wirtz. “Four generations of our family – my grandfather Arthur, my father Bill, my son Danny and I have been blessed by his work ethic as a Hall of Fame goaltender, but more importantly, by his simple presence and its spirit.
The Esposito family called him “Hall of Fame husband, father and grandfather.”
“Chicago has felt right at home since Tony arrived in 1969, thanks to the Wirtz family and the 18,000 Blackhawks fans who treated him like family every night at the Stadium, which they won, lose or are tied, ”the family said in a statement.
Esposito was from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, just across the St. Mary’s River from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and he helped Michigan Tech win an NCAA Championship in 1965. His older brother, Phil, was a star in his own right, a Hall of Fame center who played 18 seasons in the NHL.
Young Esposito’s first start in the NHL came on Dec.5, 1968 against Boston – and his brother. Phil Esposito scored twice against his younger brother, but Tony made 33 saves and the game ended 2-2.
Commissioner Gary Bettman called him a “beloved member of the hockey family”.
“It was Esposito’s style, charisma and heart that made him love the hockey fans the most, not only in Chicago, but throughout the NHL,” said Bettman. “The hockey world will be sadly missed. “
Esposito helped Chicago advance to the playoffs in 14 seasons. The Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup final in 1971 and 1973, losing each time to their former team, Montreal.
He is Chicago’s career leader with 418 wins and 74 shutouts. His overall record of 423-306-151 ranks 10th in league history. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988, joining his brother. And in 2017, he was selected by the league as one of the “100 Greatest Players in NHL History”.
The Blackhawks retired Esposito’s No. 35 on November 20, 1988 and honored him again on March 19, 2008. He was named the team’s ambassador at a pre-game ceremony attended by the Blackhawks. franchise icons and former teammates Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Denis. Savard as well as his brother.
“It’s a great feeling to be on this ice again. I really miss that, I’ll tell you, “Esposito said as the crowd chanted” Tony! Tony! ”“ It’s a pleasure and an honor to be back with the Hawks.
Esposito was also general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins and chief scout in Tampa Bay, where he was hired by his brother. Phil is 79 and works on radio for the Lightning, a team he helped found.
Tony was a founding and vital member of the Lightning family who was a staple of the games and, along with his brother Phil, was instrumental in building a successful franchise in the Sunshine State when many believed it was. impossible, ”the Lightning said in a statement. “His role cannot be underestimated. Tony was a true legend on and off the ice.”
Former Blackhawks defenseman Doug Wilson called the news of his friend and mentor “heartbreaking.”
“He exuded leadership and class, while being one of the most dominant players ever in his role,” said Wilson, general manager of the San Jose Sharks.
Esposito is survived by his wife Marilyn, his sons Mark and Jason, the wife of Mark Kim and their children Lauren and Kamryn.
AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno and sports writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.