Some sad news to share this Tuesday evening as the Chicago Blackhawks announced that goaltender Tony Esposito died at 78.
Born in 1943, Esposito was a native of Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, Canada and made his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadians during the 1968-69 season. The Blackhawks claimed Esposito on waivers from Montreal before the next season started and he rocketed to fame with a dazzling season, posting a 38-17-8 record with a .932 save percentage and 2.17 goals-against average. He picked up a slew of awards in the process, including the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie and the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie — the first of three Vezina Trophy awards in his career. In the ‘70-71 season, Esposito backstopped the Blackhawks all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against those same Canadiens, with Montreal edging Chicago 3-2 in that final game of the series at Chicago Stadium to win the 1971 Stanley Cup.
Esposito remained in Chicago for the rest of his career, playing in 873 games across 15 seasons with the Blackhawks. He amassed a 418-302-148 record with a .906 SV% and 2.93 GAA while being a five-time NHL All-Star. He also played in 99 postseason games with a 45-53 record, .903 SV% and 3.09 GAA.
His incredible career still ranks among the game’s best, with Esposito ninth all-time in regular season games played (886) and 10th all-time in regular season wins (423).
He retired in 1984 and was named to Hockey’s Hall of Fame four years later, with his contributions going well beyond the numbers detailed above. Esposito was one of the early adopters of the “butterfly” style of goaltending that is now widespread in the league, one of several reasons why Esposito was named as one of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players in 2017.
He was the final player to wear No. 35 in Chicago, with that number still hanging in the rafters at the United Center after the Blackhawks retired it.
Following his on-ice career, Esposito had a brief stint as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins and was also involved in the founding of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2008, the Blackhawks officially brought him back to the organization as an official team ambassador.