Esposito, Tony

views updated May 11 2018

Tony Esposito


Canadian hockey player

Nicknamed "Tony O," Tony Esposito was a Hall of Fame goaltender who was an early proponent of the modern style of butterfly goaltending and the use of an unorthodox, sprawling style to make saves. Younger brother of fellow Hall of Famer Phil Esposito , a forward, Esposito won three Vezina Trophies as the best goaltender in the NHL (National Hockey League) playing primarily for the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite his success, Esposito claimed he didn't really enjoy being a goaltender. After retiring from playing, Esposito and his brother ran the front office of the expansion Tampa Bay Lightening for the first six years of the franchise's existence.

Esposito was born on April 23, 1943, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where he and his elder brother Phil were raised. Their father, Pat, was a construction worker. Phil Esposito was the first to play hockey as a skater, and he often joked that as the younger brother, he forced Tony to play goalie for him. As a child, Esposito learned the position by stopping shots in the driveway and in the basement. While he wanted to be a forward, but he was always put in net in pickup games.

In high school at St. Mary's College, Esposito also played football, track and field, and softball. Some believed that he was a better fullback in football than a hockey player. He quit playing goalie when he was seventeen years old to play football, but returned when asked to play junior hockey for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Played Junior and College Hockey

After graduating from high school, Esposito was enlisted to play goal for the junior A hockey team in Sault Ste. Marie for the 1962-63 season. The team was founded by his father and other parents. This led to a scholarship at Michigan Technical University, where Esposito played goalie for the Huskies. In his four years there, he was in goal for three seasons, beginning in 1964. He

was an All-America every year, and won an NCAA championship. Esposito also earned a degree in business administration.

While playing for Michigan Tech, Esposito would visit his brother Phil, who was then playing professional hockey in the NHL for the Chicago Blackhawks. There, Esposito talked about his position with the great goaltender Glenn Hall , who taught him a great deal. Hall used a version of the butterfly style of goaltending which influenced Esposito's own approach. When Esposito graduated in 1967, he immediately signed with the NHL's Montreal Canadians who loaned him to the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks for the rest of the 1967-68 season.

For the 1968-69 season, Esposito played on the Houston Apollos of the Central Hockey League, a farm team of the Canadiens. In nineteen games, he had a 2.42 goals against average. By this time, Esposito already had his distinctive style of goaltending. He was an early proponent of the butterfly style of goaltending. That is, he would drop to his knees to block shots and make saves. Unlike other early butterfliers, like Hall, Esposito would drop before the shot fired and stayed there after.

This was not the only aspect of Esposito's goaltending style. He would also sprawl on the ice, roam from his net, scrambleanything to make saves. He did whatever was necessary to get the job done, no matter how unorthodox. Esposito also had a quick glove. As a Newsweek contributor wrote of a game in 1970, "Against Boston last week, the pudgy, heavily padded Esposito whirled around the goal like a pirouetting pachyderm, deflecting shots with his elbows, knees, and shoulders. Occasionally he even used his stick."

Picked up by the Blackhawks

Esposito finally was called up to the Montreal Canadiens early in the 1968-69 season. He appeared in thirteen games beginning on November 29. Though he played well, Esposito was left unprotected by the Canadiens in the June intraleague draft and was picked up by the Chicago Blackhawks before the 1969-70 season.

In 1969-70, Esposito's true rookie season, Coach Billy Reay had confidence in the young netminder, making veteran Denis DeJordy his backup. Though Esposito lost the season opener in St. Louis, 7-2, he went on to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and the Vezina Trophy as best goaltender. Esposito had a great rookie seasonone of the best ever for a rookie goaltender. He won 38 games, 15 by shutout. The Blackhawks made it to the Stanley Cup semifinals against Boston Bruins, for which his brother Phil played, but the Blackhawks were swept in four games.

Proving his rookie season was no fluke, Esposito almost repeated as the Vezina Trophy winner in 1970-71, but missed it by seven goals. He and the Blackhawks appeared in the Stanley Cup finals that season, but lost. In 1971-72, Esposito again won Vezina Trophy with Gary Smith. They had a combined 2.12 goal against average. Esposito's own was 1.76 goals against average in the forty-eight games in which he played.

Played in Summit Series

In 1972, Esposito played in the famous Summit Series, Team Canada vs. Team USSR, on Team Canada with his brother. This was one of the only times they played together after their youth. While Esposito was supposed to be backup to number one goalie Ken Dryden , he ended up playing in games two, three, five, and seven. He won games two and seven, tied game three, and lost game five.

While Esposito remained a top-level goalie for the rest of his career, the Blackhawks began to slip after the 1972-73 season. That season, the team appeared in the Stanley Cup finals, but again lost. This would be the last time that Esposito would be close to winning the Cup. In 1974, he won the Vezina Trophy (tying with Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers). By the 1979-80 season, Esposito was still appearing in nearly every game for the Blackhawks, with a goals against of 2.25, but was not really happy with the team and its direction.

Esposito continued to play almost all the games in 1980-81, though the demands of travel and the games themselves were hard on his 38-year-old body. He wanted to play, and he played well. However, he had a high goals against of 3.06 because of the ineffective Chicago defense. By the 1982 season, the team improved slightly, and Esposito's play did as well. He was also involved as the head of the NHL Player's Association.

Retired as a Player

During his last season in the NHL, 1983-84, Esposito was one of the oldest players in the league, and had problems with his coach, Orval Tessier. Esposito refused to play in the last game of the regular season, after being benched when he lost on February 5. Esposito was not invited to the Chicago Blackhawks' training camp in September 1984, then was released by the team.


1943Born on April 23 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada
1962-63Plays for the Junior A Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
1963-67Attends Michigan Technical University as scholarship athlete
1967Graduates from Michigan Tech with degree in business; turns professional as a hockey player; plays for the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Hockey League
1968-69Plays in 19 games for the Houston Apollos of the Central Hockey League; Joins the Montreal Canadiens for 13 games
1969Picked up by Chicago Blackhawks in the intraleague draft
1969-84Appears in post-season every year with the Blackhawks
1984Retires from professional hockey after being released by the Blackhawks
1988Becomes general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins
1989Fired as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins
1992Becomes director of hockey operations and assistant general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightening
1998Fired from Tampa Bay Lightening

Awards and Accomplishments

1965Won NCAA championship with Michigan Tech; NCAA West First All-American Team; WCHA First Team All-Star; NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team
1966-67WCHA First Team All-Star; NCAA West First All-American Team
1970Won Vezina Trophy as NHL's best goaltender; Won Calder Trophy as best rookie; All-Star (first team); appeared in All-Star game
1971Played in All-Star Game
1972Won Vezina Trophy (with Gary Smith); All-Star (first team); played in All-Star Game
1973All-Star (second team); played in All-Star Game
1974Won Vezina Trophy (tied with Philadelphia Flyer Bernie Parent); All-Star (second team); played in All-Star game
1980All-Star (first team); played in All-Star game
1988Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame; his number 35 was retired by the Chicago Blackhawks

After the release, Esposito retired as a player. When he retired, his regular season record was 423-307-151, with seventy-six shutouts and a 2.92 goals against average. In ninety-nine playoff games, he had a 3.07 goals against average and six shutouts. While he played with the Blackhawks, the team made the playoffs every season. In 1988, Esposito was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the same year his number was retired by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Worked as Hockey Executive

After retiring from the Blackhawks, Esposito remained connected to hockey. In his first post, he spent time with the NHL Players Association as an official. But he soon returned to more direct involvement, working in the front office of several teams.

In April 1988, Esposito was hired as director of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He ran the club on a day to day basis, and later named himself general manager for the struggling Penguins. During the 1988-89 season, Esposito's team was in a battle for playoff spot with his brother's team. (Phil Esposito was the general manager of the New York Rangers, in the same division as Pittsburgh). When the team continued to struggle, Esposito was fired in December 1989.

By 1992, Esposito was the director of hockey operations and assistant general manager for Tampa Bay Lightening, an expansion team. His brother was the team's general manager. The brothers were fired together in October 1998 by the team's new owner, Art Williams. It had proven hard to get the team going with money limitations imposed by the previous owners, and the Lightening had struggled since its inception.

Though Esposito had been a relatively unsuccessful hockey executive, his stylistic contributions as a goaltender and his success with the Blackhawks distinguished him. Ironically, Esposito did not enjoy his job as a professional hockey player. As he was quoted in A Breed Apart by Douglas Hunter, "It's a job, that's what it is, a job. I have to do it. But it's tough. I don't like it. To be playing well as a goalkeeper, you have to be afraid. Not afraid that you'll get hurt, but afraid that they're going to score on you. Every time they come down the ice with that puck, I'm afraid the puck is going to go in."


Address: 418 55th Ave., St. Petersburg. Florida 33706. Online: (with brother, Phil Esposito).


(With Phil Esposito and Tim Moriarty), The Brothers Esposito, Hawthorn Books, 1971.

Career Statistics

Chicago: Chicago Blackhawks (NHL); Montreal: Montreal Canadiens (NHL).

(With Phil Esposito and Kevin Walsh) We Can Teach You To Play Hockey, Hawthorn Books, 1972.



Fischler, Stan and Shirley. Fischlers' Hockey Encyclopedia. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1975.

Fischler, Stan, and Shirley Walton Fischler. The Hockey Encyclopedia. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1984.

Hickok, Ralph. A Who's Who of Sports Champions: Their Stories and Records. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.

Hunter, Douglas. A Breed Apart: An Illustrated History of Goaltending. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Kariher, Harry C. Who's Who in Hockey. New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1973.

McGovern, Mike. The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Athletes. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2001.


Chia, Ken. "Esposito Likes Kodiaks' Blend."Wisconsin State Journal (October 22, 1999): 5B.

Clark, Cammy. "NHL's family tree has deep roots: Shinny siblings share tales of rink rivalry."Calgary Herald (February 23, 1997): B4.

Cummings, Roy. "Tony Esposito Might Be Moving to Phoenix."Tampa Tribune (May 16, 1996): 1.

Kaufman, Ira. "Bolts had Their Phil."Tampa Tribune (October 14, 1998): 1.

Kaufman, Ira. "Espositos' firings come as surprise." Tampa Tribune (October 14, 1998): 8.

Kaufman, Ira. "Espositos hold little animosity a year after their abrupt firing."Tampa Tribune (October 12, 1999): 5.

Minkoff, Randy. "Tony Esposito Is Ironman Goalie." United Press International (April 4, 1981).

"Newcomer at the Net."Time (March 9, 1970): 58.

"N.H.L.: Roundup-Tampa Bay; Esposito Brothers Dismissed."New York Times (October 14, 1998): D6.

Panaccio, Tim. "Espositos last too long in Tampa." Florida Times-Union (October 18, 1998): C7.

"Penguins Clean House and Bring in Patrick."New York Times (December 6, 1989): D31.

Rappoport. Associated Press (November 19, 1998).

"Sports People: Esposito Era Ends."New York Times (September 7, 1984): A18.

"Sports People: Shake-Up for Penguins."New York Times (April 15, 1988): D23.

"Sports People: An Unhappy Goalie."New York Times (April 3, 1984): B10.

Swift, E.W. "Seems Like Old Times."Sports Illustrated (February 20, 1995): 58.

Yannis, Alex. "Pro Hockey; Esposito Brothers Facing Off Again."New York Times (April 9, 1989): section 8, p. 5.


"Anthony James (Tony) 'Tony O' Esposito." (November 2, 2002).

"The Legends: Players: Tony Esposito: Biography." Legends of Hockey. (November 2, 2002).

"#35 Tony Esposito." September to Remember. (November 2, 2002).

"Tony Esposito." (November 2, 2002).

"Tony Esposito Biography." (November 2, 2002).

Sketch by A. Petruso

Where Is He Now?

For the years after he was fired from the Tampa Bay Lightening, Esposito relaxed in St. Petersburg with his wife, looking for new opportunities in the game. Because of his business sense, he had no real need to work. However, Esposito continued to make appearances at card shows and did some goaltending instruction for minor league hockey teams like the United Hockey League Madison (Wisconsin) Kodiaks.

Esposito, Phil

views updated May 23 2018

Phil Esposito


Canadian hockey player

Considered by many to be one of the greatest centers to play the game, Phil Esposito won numerous scoring titles, primarily during his tenure with the Boston Bruins. He was the first player to score 100 points in a season, but one example of his scoring touch. After retiring as a player, he was a hockey executive who helped expand the league into the Sun Belt by being a force behind the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Esposito was born on February 20, 1942, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, the son of Patrick and Frances Esposito. His younger brother Tony Esposito , also played in the NHL as a goalie. It was the elder Esposito who forced his little brother to play goal for him when they were kids.

Part of Blackhawks Program

Because the Chicago Blackhawks sponsored the youth hockey program in Sault Ste. Marie, of which Esposito was a part, he was chosen by them as a player. Esposito took hockey seriously enough to drop out of high school to play junior hockey. In 1961, he turned professional when he began playing for the Blackhawks' minor league affiliate.

During the 1963-64 season, Esposito was called up to the Blackhawks, but he only had three goals in 27 games. Though never a great skater, Esposito was good because of his strength. He continued to play for the Chicago Blackhawks for three seasons. Over those years, he scored only seventy-one goals. Esposito played on a line with Bobby Hull . Many of Esposito's goals were considered easy because of who he played withHull was a gifted goal scorerthough he helped Hull's scoring proficiency as well.

Traded to Boston

In 1967, Esposito was traded to the Boston Bruins because Chicago needed a defenseman and he had not played well in the playoffs before that date. It was in Boston that Esposito had his best years as a player and Boston had some of its best years as a franchise. During his six years in Boston, he won or finished second in the scoring title race each year. Esposito also became an all-around player, who was used in every situation.

In his second season with Boston after the trade, Esposito became the first player to score more than 100 points in a season. He followed that up with a 99 point season in 1969-70, and 152 pointsincluding seventy-six goalsin 1970-71. In 1972-73, Esposito had fifty-five goals and seventy-five assists. In 1973-74, he had sixty-eight goals and seventy-seven assists. From 1969-73, he scored at least fifty goals in a season. These were amazing numbers for the time. Esposito also won the Stanley Cup with Boston in 1970 and 1972.

Traded to New York Rangers

Esposito suffered a knee injury in 1973, after which some believed he was not the same player. This became true after he was traded to the New York Rangers in November 1975. He was not nearly as effective of a player for the last part of his career. Though he became a popular player in New York, the adjustment was hard. He also had problems with injuries and did not have the same touch he had in Boston. Esposito abruptly retired in the middle of the 1980-81 season.

Over course of his playing career, Esposito scored 717 goals and 873 assists. He scored at least thirty goals in thirteen consecutive seasons. Though Esposito's strengths were often overshadowed by high profile teammates like Hull and Bobby Orr , he still had a number of significant goals. Esposito was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.

Remained Connected to Hockey

Though Esposito was finished as a player, his career in professional hockey remained. The day after he retired, he became an assistant coach for the Rangers. The following season, he worked as a color commentator for the Madison Square Garden Network.

Esposito continued his association with the Rangers when he was hired as general manager and vice president in 1986. He controlled all players and coaches for the Rangers and the minor league system. The team was not doing well when he took over, but it did better with him the first year. But Esposito was sometimes impatient with the progress. He fired two head coaches and named himself head coach just before the playoffs in 1987 and 1989. Esposito had paid a hefty price in draft picks to acquire Michel Bergeron, the coach he fired in 1989. When Esposito took the helm in 1989, the team never won again. Shortly after playoffs ended in 1989, Esposito himself was fired. He had done forty-three trades in three years.

Soon after his dismissal, in 1990, Esposito began working on getting a new NHL franchise accepted in Florida, the Tampa Bay Lightning. This would bring NHL hockey back to the Sun Belt (it had previously been in Atlanta). He lined up Japanese investors and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner among other American investors, and promised the league that a $90 million hockey arena would be built. The Lightning began playing in the 1992-93 season. When the project started, Esposito had been a partner in franchise, but by the time the team began playing, he was only the president and general manager. Esposito was criticized for some of his actions while the franchise was being developed, but the team survived. Esposito guided the team until he was fired in October 1998 by its new owner, Art Williams.

After his dismissal, Esposito remained in hockey as a commentator for Fox Sports Net for one season and for Tampa Bay Lightning radio for several seasons. He also worked for the Lightning as a promotions employee. He also was owner and director of the Cincinnati Cyclones, a minor league hockey team that he bought with other investors in 2000.


1942Born February 20 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada
1961Turns pro as a hockey player
1963Is called up by the Chicago Blackhawks
1963-67Plays with the Chicago Blackhawks
1967Traded to Boston Bruins
1969First player to score more than 100 points in a season
1970Wins Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins
1972Wins Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins; plays for Team Canada in the Summit Series
1975Traded to New York Rangers on November 7
1981Retires as a player in mid-season, becomes coach (January)
1984Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame
1986Named general manager of the New York Rangers
1989Fired as general manager of Rangers in May
1990Part of team that gets expansion franchise Tampa Bay Lightning admitted to NHL for 1992-93 season
1992Is general manager and president when Tampa Bay joins the NHL
1998Fired as general manager of Tampa Bay Lightening
1998-99Works as analyst for Fox Sports
2000Buys (with partners) the Cincinnati Cyclones, a minor league hockey team

Awards and Accomplishments

1968All-Star (second team)
1969, 1971-74Art Ross Trophy as NHL's leading scorer
1969, 1971-75All-Star (first team)
1969, 1974Hart Trophy
1972Won Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins; played for Team Canada in the Summit Series
1974Lester B. Pearson Award
1978Awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to U.S. hockey
1984Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame

While Esposito's front office accomplishments were important, it was his skills as a player, especially in Boston, that were his legacy. Describing his completeness at the time, Stan and Shirley Fischler in the Hockey Encyclopedia quoted an unnamed scout as saying, "Esposito combines reach, strength, intelligence, and competitiveness to the degree that the only way he can be countered is with superbly coordinated defensive play."


Address: c/o BCE Place, 30 Yonge St., Toronto, Ontario M5E 1X8 Canada. Online:


(With Tony Esposito and Tim Moriarty) Brothers Esposito, Hawthorn Books, 1971.

(With Gerald Estenazi) Hockey Is My Life, Dodd Mead, 1972.

(With Tony Esposito and Kevin Walsh) We Can Teach You To Play Hockey, Hawthorn Books, 1972.

Career Statistics

Boston: Boston Bruins (NHL); Chicago: Chicago Blackhawks (NHL); New York: New York Rangers (NHL).
1975-76New York6229386728
1976-77New York8034468052
1977-78New York7938438153
1978-79New York8042367837
1979-80New York8034447873
1980-81New York417132020

(With Dick Dew) Phil Esposito's Winning Hockey for Beginners, H. Regency, 1976.



Diamond, Dan, and Joseph Romain. Hockey Hall of Fame: The Official History of the Game and Its Greatest Stars. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Fischler, Stan. The All-New Hockey's 100. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Ltd., 1988.

Fischler, Stan and Shirley. Fischlers' Hockey Encyclopedia. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.

Hickok, Ralph. A Who's Who of Sports Champions: Their Stories and Records. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.

Hollander, Zander, and Hal Bock, eds. The Complete Encyclopedia of Ice Hockey. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974.


Associated Press (May 25, 1989).

"Coming of Age: Who will ever forget The Goal?" Maclean's (July 1, 1999): 42.

Dupont, Kevin. "Big Heart and Big Memories."New York Times (September 25, 1984): B8.

Erlendsson, Erik. "Andreychuk Sets Mark."Tampa Tribune (November 16, 2002): 7.

"Esposito Brothers Dismissed."New York Times (October 14, 1998): D6.

Finn, Robin. "Esposito Expected to Beat Odds."New York Times (December 10, 1990): C3.

Finn, Robin. "Esposito Is Replacing Patrick as General Manager."New York Times (July 15, 1986): A25.

Finn, Robin. "Esposito Timetable Moving Too Slowly." New York Times (November 30, 1987): C1.

Frayne, Trent. "A deal that saved the Lightning." Maclean's (January 13, 1992): 44.

"Inside the NHL."Sports Illustrated (October 26, 1998): 86.

Lapointe, Joe. "Less Clout for Esposito Means More for Steinbrenner."New York Times (December 17, 1991): B15.

Scher, Jon. "Snow job in Tampa."Sports Illustrated (November 2, 1992): 65.

Sexton, Joe. "Candid Esposito Itemizes a Long List of Complaints on Bergeron." New York Times (April 12, 1989): A19.

Sexton, Joe. "Esposito Replaces Bergeron." New York Times (April 2, 1989): section 8, p. 1.

Sexton, Joe. "Rangers Pull a Surprise: Esposito Is Dismissed."New York Times (May 25, 1989): D23.

Vecsey, George. "The Big Man's Final Shot."New York Times (January 10, 1981): section 1, p. 17.

Wolff, Craig. "Esposito Casts His Spell Over Rangers."New York Times (February 23, 1987): C1.

Wolff, Craig. "Esposito Is Moving Quickly in Bid to Take Rangers to Top."New York Times (September 8, 1986): C14.

Wolff, Craig. "Esposito Rushes In, Drops Sator and Takes Over."New York Times (November 22, 1986): section 1, p. 15.


"Five Questions With Phil Esposito."Cincinnati Enquirer (October 20, 2002). (December 16, 2002).

"Phil Esposito Awards." Legends of Hockey. (December 16, 2002).

"Phil Esposito Stats." Legends of Hockey. (December 16, 2002).

Sketch by A. Petruso