“Tony O” passes at 78
by Andrew Podnieks|11 AUG 2021
Tony Esposito in the net during the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.
photo: Graphic Artists / HHOF-IIHF Images
Tony Esposito, perhaps the greatest right-hand catching goalie of all time, has passed away at age 78 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by older brother, Phil, and together they make up the most famous brother combination in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. 

"Tony was one of the most important and popular figures in the history of the franchise as we near its 100th anniversary," Chicago Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said. "Four generations of our family — my grandfather Arthur, my father Bill, my son Danny, and I — were blessed by his work ethic as a Hall of Fame goalie, but more importantly, by his mere presence and spirit."

Esposito played for Michigan Tech in the NCAA in the early 1960s at a time when very few Canadians chose the college route to a pro career. He led the Huskies to an NCAA championship in 1965 while earning a degree in business, and soon after turned pro. Esposito later signed with Montreal and made his debut with the Habs on November 29, 1968, replacing an injured Rogie Vachon. In all, he played 13 games for the Canadiens during the 1968-69 regular season and was backup to Vachon throughout the playoffs. 

Montreal won the Stanley Cup that year, but in the summer the team exposed him in the intra-league draft and Chicago claimed him. Esposito spend the remaining 15 years of his career with the Hawks, during which time he made a name for himself in several ways.

“Tony O” played the butterfly style, with knees together and skates apart. He was also famous for wearing number 35, a unique number for any player up ‘til that time. He was also the first goalie to pile snow to the side of his posts, to help slow the puck down near the goal line, and he also was the first goalie to routinely stop the puck behind the net. He did this as a way of trying to accumulate assists, and it worked. He is 14th all-time in career assists with 25. 

His first season with Chicago was nothing short of incredible. He set a modern-day shutout record with 15 in 63 games, and he won the Vezina and Calder Trophies with a 2.17 goals-against average. A year later, he led the Hawks to the Stanley Cup finals, where they were defeated by Montreal. 

In the summer of 1972, Esposito was named to Team Canada for the Summit Series. He split the goaltending duties with Ken Dryden and played four games, with a 2-1-1 record – games 2 (win), 3 (tie), 5 (loss), and 7 (win).

Esposito also went to the Cup finals in 1973, losing again to Montreal, and won the Vezina again in 1972 and 1974. In all, he played in 886 games in the regular season and another 99 in the playoffs. As well, he is a member of the rare 400-win club, retiring in 1984 with 423 to his credit which is still 10th overall all time. His 76 career shutouts is also still tied for 10th on the all-time list. 

Esposito played for Canada again at the 1977 World Championship, Canada’s first since 1969 after which it withdrew from international hockey over a fight with other IIHF nations over amateur vs. professional players. Having spent all of his playing days in the U.S., he became a naturalized citizen and played for the Americans at the 1981 Canada Cup, winning two of five games he played. 

In retirement, he was the GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins briefly and later a scout for the Tampa Bay Lightning under GM and brother, Phil. Tony’s number 35 was later retired by the Hawks, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. In 2017, during the NHL’s centennial celebrations, Esposito was named 79th greatest player of all time on the Top 100 list.