August 26, 2021

Tony Esposito Remembered As Great Goalie

One of the game's greatest forwards and one of the game's greatest goalies grew up in the same family home. Phil, the older of the two, practiced shooting against brother Tony for hours on end. By 1970 both had reached the top of the hockey world. Both we're named to the NHL First All Star Team.

Tony Esposito was one of the first players of the modern era to reach the NHL after playing American college hockey. One of the reasons he went this route was to deliberately delay his professional debut. When he started there was only 6 NHL teams and the use of one goalie was still common place - hence only 6 jobs. But just around the corner the NHL would double in size due to expansion, and carrying a backup goalie would soon become an accepted practice. He played three seasons with the Michigan Tech Huskies while studying business. He signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1967. 

The Habs assigned Tony to the WHL Vancouver Canucks for the 67-68 season, where he continued to dominate, leading the league in games played, minutes played, shutouts, and amazingly both wins and losses. Esposito felt that his time in Vancouver was a great hockey education for him. He had only played 20 or so games in the college schedule, but would face lots of ice time and shots in 63 games

Tony O played part of the 1968-69 season with the Montreal Canadiens and earned his only Stanley Cup ring there while serving as the backup goalie. His first NHL game came against brother Phil's Boston Bruins and resulted in a 2-2 tie. In total that season Esposito would only get into 13 contests, with a 5-4-4 record. He did post 2 shutouts, including a 0-0 tie against Phil and the Bruins.

The following year he was acquired by Chicago. The Canadiens had to choose between the young Esposito and the veteran legend Gump Worsley. While the Habs did have Ken Dryden a couple of years away, the move could have proved to be disastrous if Dryden hadn't emerged. Tony inherited Glenn Hall's position in Chicago and played phenomenally for the next fifteen years.

His first full season saw him win the Calder and Vezina Trophies as he posted a 2.17 GAA and 15 shutouts in 63 games. The 15 shutouts is a modern day record for most in one season. He would go on to win or share 3 Vezinas, and five All Star berths. He thrived on a heavy work load. In fact, over 8 year stretch he averaged 68 games a season.

Despite Esposito's incredible play, the Hawks were never able to achieve elite status, which probably holds Tony Esposito back when it comes to discussions about the game's greatest goalies. He was clearly an elite goalie though, and was chosen to play in the 1972 Summit Series with Team Canada. He played in 4 games and by most accounts outplayed number one goalie Ken Dryden.

Tony O also played in the 1981 Canada Cup, but not for Canada. He had acquired his US Citizenship just in time for the tournament, and agreed to play of Team USA since he wasn't invited to Canada's training camp. Tony O instantly gave Team USA some credibility, but ultimately wasn't able to give them enough wins to make a splash in the tournament.

Tony would play past the age of 40, retiring as a Hawk in 1984. He would later go on to NHL management positions with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

He was a bit of an unorthodox goalie. He would play the butterfly style to stop shots, which back then was not as common as it is today. He often would cheat to one side when facing a shooter, displaying extra room and forcing the shooter to shoot, but then would quickly take it away with his quick glove hand. A noted poke-checker, the only thing more active than Esposito's stick was his mouth. He was a loud and talkative goalie, always yelling directions to his defensemen.

One thing is for sure - Tony was an exciting goalie to watch!

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