NHL Legacies: Tony Esposito

Back in 2021 we all received the sad news of Tony Esposito’s passing. At this time, all hockey fans had memories rushing back of his time on the ice. 

His fiberglass mask was of great significance and brought back many memories. Of course, his was unique, and it was a marker of him as a player and a person. It was made on a workbench in 1969, in Quebec, and he modified it himself. 

All his gear brought back memories of his play, his skill, and his unique persona that brought us all so much joy when we watched the game. 

But, sadly, nothing is forever, and Tony passed on, but boy, did he leave behind one hell of a legacy. 

He shook up the Stanley Cup odds, and we know we will never see another Tony Esposito. 

The Death Of A Legend

Tony passed away in August 2021 from pancreatic cancer at age 78. He was much loved by his family and by his teammates.  

The legend was not just loved by people because he was a good man, but he was also loved by many fans due to his Hall of Fame status, the one he grabbed as he held the record for shutouts in a single season. 

Let’s not forget his 1969-1970 season, making a 63-start rookie… 15 shutouts in that season alone! 

He knew what he was doing, and he was good at it. He was a competitive player, he loved the competition, and the competition loved him. The team even had issues going into Chicago because of Esposito, he was just a force to be reckoned with. 

His teammates would try to shoot high on him early during the games, trying to rattle him. Esposito had a fun relationship with Sanderson, winding each other up, trying to rile up Esposito, squaring up at the center ice. 

But that’s the kind of relationship he had with many players, everyone was almost testing him, to see what they could get in. Winding him up in the process, while it made for some tension, it also made for some hardcore entertainment, making it all more fun. 

Background

Esposito was born in 1943, in Ontario. His brother and he became the greatest sibling tandem in pro sports. His brother, Phil, was a great   in the league, maybe one of the greatest, while Tony put together a Hall of Fame legacy. 

Tony began his amateur hockey career in ‘64 as he did 3 seasons with Michigan Tech, then he moved onto the WHL, spending 67-68 with the Canucks, before he went to the CHL, and he played pro for the first time for the Apollos.

He got his first game in the NHL in the 68-69 season when he was with the Montreal Canadiens. He made his debut against the Seals, and played for 13 games with the Canadiens. He posted an epic .919 saving percentage. And a 2.75 average against-goals.

The Canadiens left Esposito unprotected in the ‘69 NHL draft, and the Blackhawks claimed him, thus, he spent the next 15 seasons with them, rewriting their records.

The Canadiens really regretted letting him go, as his season from 69-70 was one of the best ever seen by a rookie in the league history. Playing 63 games, and winning more than half of them, setting a record that has yet to be beaten. 

He always kept his opponents off the scoreboard, and this gave him the nickname ‘Tony O’, and rightly so! 

A Legacy Beyond The Ice

However, his action on the ice was not the only thing that made him the legend he was. When he passed on, no one had to look very far to discover just who he was off the ice. 

Social media has story after story, pouring out about the man behind the hockey mask. 

The best stories actually came from his fans, and not his teammates to surprise. 

The theme that was found was that he always took time for his fans, he would talk to them, and always give them a warm welcome. In fact, this absolutely made him the perfect ambassador for the Blackhawks in the latter years of his life. 

Many who met Esposito noted just how warm and welcoming he was, you could sit and talk to him about hockey for hours with no interruptions of concern you were wasting his time, he was happy to talk to everyone. 

He brought smiles to many faces when he was on the ice and when he was off it. 

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