Anthony James Esposito
Born April 23, 1943 (age 68) in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada
We’ll kick off Legends Week with one of the Chicago Blackhawks’ living legends. Tony O, as we Blackhawks fans call him, began playing hockey alongside his big brother Phil – himself an NHL legend – at Michigan Tech University. In his three years there, Tony made All-American first team, led the Huskies to an NCAA championship in 1965 and still holds the record for career GAA (2.55). He then went the the WHL’s Vancouver Canucks (before they joined the NHL) and CHL’s Houston Apollos before joining the Montreal Canadiens during the 1968-69 season.
As a Canadien, he faced his brother Phil, then with Boston, in a game in which Phil scored both goals for the Bruins and ended in a 2-2 tie (there were no shootouts or overtimes then). Tony served as a backup for two other goalies who were injured, but after thirteen games he was sent back to the minors when they returned. Even though he went back to fill in during the playoffs – especially the finals in which Montreal won – with four goaltenders on the Montreal roster, there was not much Tony could do.
Chicago claimed him on waivers for the 1969-70 season. During his first season there alone, he had a 2.17 GAA, had a record 15 shutouts (that got him the Calder Trophy), won the Vezina, was a nominee for the Hart Trophy and was named to the First All-Star team (it was also during this rookie season that he got the nickname Tony O). His second year was just as successful, leading the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup final, which they lost. By 1971 he’d recorded a career-low 1.77 GAA and shared Vezina honors with his backup goalie, Gary Smith. In 1974 he again posted an epic 2.04 GAA and shared another Vezina with Philly’s Bernie Parent. Even when the team slumped, Tony didn’t, and he kept on shining even to his retirement in 1985.
After his retirement and induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, Tony kept busy. He briefly became GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, long enough to draft Mark Recchi and snag Tom Barasso. He and his brother Phil helped found the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1991. His number was retired by the Blackhawks in 1988, and in 2008 he became an Ambassador of the organization.
Tony was the first goalie to wear #35. It was assigned to him in training camp in 1969, when the numbers 1 through 30 were already taken. After he got a shutout in an exhibition game, he kept the number as good luck. Now the number is common among goalies. May he and the other living Blackhawks legends be a constant source of inspiration for present and future members of the team.