CHICAGO – On Tuesday, the Blackhawks mourned the death of one of the legendary players in franchise history.
The team announced that Hockey Hall of Famer Tony Esposito has died at the age of 78 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. During his time in Chicago from 1969-1984, Esposito was a six-time All-Star, three-time Vezina Trophy winner, and won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year in his first season.
During his time with the Blackhawks, the team reached the playoffs every season and got to the Stanley Cup Final in 1971 and 1973. Esposito played 873 games with the franchise after playing his first year with the Montreal Canadiens, finishing with a career goals-against average of 2.93 and a record of 418-302-148 in 15 seasons.
His No. 35 was retired by the Blackhawks and he was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. In his post-retirement years, he would eventually become an ambassador for the franchise as the Blackhawks returned to prominence in the late 2000s and 2010s.
In conjunction with the NHL’s 100th anniversary celebration, Esposito was named one of the league’s Top 100 players of all time.
“Tony was one of the most important and popular figures in the history of the franchise as we near its 100th anniversary. 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,” said team chairman Rocky Wirtz in a statement released by the team.”Likewise, four generations of hockey fans grew to love Tony. We were lucky enough to draft him from the Montreal Canadiens on June 15, 1969, for a sum of $25,000.
“The Blackhawks had finished in last place of the East Division the previous season. Tony immediately took over as the No. 1 goalie, and led the Blackhawks to an unprecedented leap to first place in his first season while recorded 15 shutouts, still a modern record.
“He was tireless, reliable and a great teammate. If you were a new player in Chicago, Tony and Marilyn always made you feel welcome and comfortable. Rookies were invited to their home for countless dinners, and when the Espositos held their annual Christmas party, everybody associated with the Blackhawks was there. Everybody, whether you were an established veteran or an awed rookie.”
Claimed by the Blackhawks from the Canadiens after the 1968-1969 season, Esposito made an immediate impact on the franchise in his first season. He finished with a modern-day NHL record of 15 shutouts with a 2.17 goals-against average that earned him the Calder and Vezina Trophies while finishing runner-up for the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP.
That year Esposito made the league’s All-Star Game and would do so his first five seasons with the franchise.
After leading the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final in his second season, Esposito turned in another memorable campaign in 1971-1972. He had a career-low 1.77 goals-against average with an NHL-high nine shutouts as he won the Vezina Trophy for a second time.
Esposito won that honor again in 1974 as he failed to allow more than three goals a game in his first seven seasons with the franchise. He would remain the Blackhawks’ top goaltender into the 1980s before retiring after the 1983-1984 season.