April 07, 2016
Born on January 28th, 1978, Robert Esche grew up in Whitesboro, New York playing baseball, football and tennis. And he loved playing his guitar.
It was not until he was eleven years old that he tried skating and hockey. And he was quickly attracted to being a goaltender.
Esche, who grew up idolizing Terry Sawchuk even though the hockey legend died eight years before Esche was even born, quickly found he was pretty good at stopping pucks. Standing in front of pucks would take him on a fantastic journey.
It would take him to Detroit and then Plymouth, where he played junior hockey.
It would take him to Team USA, playing at the World Juniors, World Championships, World Cup and the Olympics. Perhaps it was his success at the international level that allowed him to embrace Russia where he extended his career in the wild and wacky KHL.
And of course it would take him to the National Hockey League where he would play 186 career games, most notably with Philadelphia. Wearing his goalie mask which featured his guitar heroes Hank Williams, Jr. and Waylon Jennings, he would post a 78-58-16 career record.
Esche started his career with Phoenix but the bulk of his NHL career was spent in Philadelphia.
"I loved every second of it," said the goalie who was nicknamed either "Chico" or "Silent Bob." "I always thought of myself as a Flyer. I still do, actually. They breed that in you when you play there. I would have liked to be there longer. I would have loved to be a lifer with the Flyers because it's such a great organization and an unbelievable place to play."
The highlight of his career came in a long playoff run in 2004, where the Flyers came one win short of reaching the Stanley Cup final.
Philadelphia is never an easy place to play, especially if you are a goaltender. But Esche learned to embrace it.
"Philadelphia is a tough place to play goal," Esche admits."But if you understand that, and embrace it, it turns out that it's not as tough as you thought going into it. Early on, I was nervous. But as the years went on, it actually turned out to be a relaxing situation. It was almost like the Flyers fans helped get you up for the game as a goalie. I love those fans, I really do."
Esche returned from Russia and retired in and was invested in a restaurant and a farm. But he was still very visible in the hockey world, learning the ropes of management in the American Hockey League.