Tony Esposito, 78, Pancreatic Cancer

By Evan Easterling and Jesus Jiménez, Aug. 10, 2021

THE NEW YORK TIMES – Tony Esposito, who as a rookie in his first of 15 N.H.L. seasons as the Chicago Blackhawks’ goaltender recorded an astonishing 15 shutouts, earning the nickname Tony O, died on Tuesday, the Blackhawks announced. He was 78.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, the team said. It was not immediately clear where he died.

Esposito, who played all but 13 games of his 16-season N.H.L. career with Chicago, joined the Blackhawks for the 1969-70 season, winning the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year and the first of three Vezina Trophies as the league’s best goaltender. He was an early pioneer of the butterfly style of goaltending — dropping to the knees and spreading out the leg pads — in an era when stand-up was prevalent.

Esposito was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, four years after his older brother Phil, a forward who was one of the most prolific scorers in N.H.L. history with Chicago, the Boston Bruins and the Rangers. In 2017, as the N.H.L. approached its 100th anniversary, both Tony and Phil Esposito were named among the league’s 100 greatest players.

Tony Esposito’s 423 wins rank 10th on the N.H.L.’s career list for goalies. Chicago retired his No. 35 in 1988, and he had worked as a team ambassador since 2008 … READ MORE. 

Tony Esposito

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  • Hockey Hall of Fame, 1988
  • Born April 23, 1943, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada
  • Died August 10, 2021 (aged 78)
  • Height 5 ft 11 in | Weight 185 lb 
  • Position Goaltender
  • Played for Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Black Hawks
  • National team Canada and United States
  • Playing career 1967–1984

Anthony James “Tony O” Esposito (April 23, 1943 – August 10, 2021) was a Canadian-American professional ice hockey goaltender, who played in the National Hockey League, most notably for the Chicago Black Hawks. He was one of the pioneers of the now popular butterfly style.

Tony was the younger brother of Phil Esposito, a centre. Both brothers had notable careers and are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 2017 Esposito was named one of the ‘100 Greatest NHL Players’ in history.

Esposito grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario with his brother, fellow future NHL star Phil Esposito. He played college hockey for Michigan Tech.

A three-year hockey letter winner, Esposito was a three-time first-team All-America selection. He was a driving force in helping the Michigan Tech Huskies to the 1964–65 NCAA Championship and was named a first-team NCAA All-Tournament Team choice in 1965.

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Still currently the MTU career leader in goals-against average (2.55) and second in career saved percentage (.912), Esposito was also a three-time All-WCHA first-team selection.

Esposito turned pro with the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Hockey League in 1967–68 and played with the Houston Apollos in the Central Hockey League in 1968–69.

He first played in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens during the 1968–69 season. He was only the third American college player selected by an NHL team. Esposito made his NHL debut against the Oakland Seals, playing 26 minutes in relief of Rogie Vachon.

His first NHL start was against the Boston Bruins, then led by his brother Phil. The game ended in a 2–2 tie, in which Phil scored both goals for Boston and Tony made 33 saves.

Esposito played thirteen regular-season games, due to both Gump Worsley and Vachon being injured. However, Esposito returned to the minors when they both returned from their injuries.

Worsley was injured again during the playoffs, so Esposito was called again. Tony Esposito served as backup to Vachon, dressing for all four games in the finals. As the Canadiens club was deep in goaltenders at that time, with Worsley, Vachon and other prospects in the system, Esposito was left unprotected by the Canadiens in 1969.

Rise to fame

For 1969–70, the Chicago Black Hawks claimed him from Montreal on waivers, known at the time as the “intra-league draft”. Esposito had a spectacular season with Chicago, posting a 2.17 GAA and setting a modern-day NHL record with fifteen shutouts, for which he won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s best rookie.

He also took the Vezina Trophy and was named to the First All-Star team at season’s end. He also was runner-up for league MVP (Hart Memorial Trophy). It was during this record-setting season that he earned the nickname Tony ‘O’ for his shutout abilities.

In 1970–71, he again proved to be one of the league’s top goalies and helped Chicago finish first in the NHL’s West division. The Black Hawks made it to the Stanley Cup Final, but lost in seven games to Montreal. The following season he posted the lowest GAA of his career (1.77) and shared the Vezina with backup Gary Smith. He was again selected to the NHL’s First All-Star team.

Esposito was named to Team Canada for the Summit Series of September 1972. He was the first goalie to earn a win against the Soviets, splitting Canada’s goaltending duties with Montreal’s Ken Dryden. Esposito posted both the lowest GAA and the highest save percentage of the three goalies (Esposito, Ken Dryden, and Vladislav Tretiak) who appeared in the series. Tony’s brother Phil had an exceptional series as well and was the inspirational leader of the team.

Despite the loss of Bobby Hull, Esposito and the Hawks led their division in 1972–73, but lost the Stanley Cup in six games to Montreal. 1973–74 was another brilliant season with a sparkling 2.04 GAA and 10 shutouts. Esposito won his third Vezina, sharing it with Philadelphia’s Bernie Parent.

The Black Hawks declined over the next few seasons although Esposito remained among the top netminders in the NHL. In 1979–80, Esposito enjoyed a fine season with six shutouts and made the First All-Star team for the third time.

In 1981, he became a naturalized American citizen and played for Team USA in the Canada Cup (he had previously represented Canada at the 1977 Ice Hockey World Championship tournament). He played a few more seasons in Chicago, retiring after the 1983–84 season.


Esposito is one of just eight goalies to win the Vezina catching the puck right-handed (that is, he was left-handed, using his dominant left hand for his stick and blocker). The other seven are fellow Black Hawks’ legend Charlie Gardiner (in 1932 and 1934), the New York Rangers’ Davey Kerr (1940), ambidextrous Montreal goalie Bill Durnan (1944–1947, 1949 and 1950), the New York Rangers’ Gilles Villemure (1971), Tom Barrasso of the Buffalo Sabres (1984), Edmonton Oilers’ Grant Fuhr (1988) and José Théodore of the Montreal Canadiens in 2002.

Esposito was the second NHL player to officially wear the number 35, after goaltender Fern Rivard wore 35 for the Minnesota North Stars in 1968-69, a common number now worn by many goaltenders. It was assigned to him during training camp prior to Chicago’s 1969–70 season because the standard goalie numbers 1 and 30 were already assigned.

After posting a shutout in his first exhibition game for the team, he chose to keep wearing the number. His number 35 was retired by the Blackhawks on November 20, 1988.

Esposito was noted as being superstitious, becoming upset by crossed hockey sticks and regularly lining up his hockey sticks in a particular way.


He retired from professional play in 1984 and was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. His number 35 was retired by the Blackhawks.

Esposito later became General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins briefly, where he hired former Black Hawks teammate Gene Ubriaco as head coach. In his first year, the Penguins finished 40-33-7 and ended a lengthy playoff drought. After starting the 1989-90 season 10-14-2, Esposito and Ubriaco were both terminated. During his tenure, Esposito is best known for drafting Mark Recchi and pulling off a trade that landed the Penguins goaltender Tom Barrasso.

In 1991, when his brother helped found the Tampa Bay Lightning, Phil hired Tony as chief scout. Legend has it that they came up with the team name during a thunderstorm. Both Espositos were fired in 1998.

In 1998, he was ranked number 79 on The Hockey News’ list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, 61 places behind his brother Phil, who ranked number 18.

In 2007, Tony was inducted (alongside brother Phil) into the Sault Ste. Marie Walk of Fame.

On March 19, 2008, the Chicago Blackhawks honoured Esposito with “Tony Esposito Night”, where he was formally introduced as an Ambassador for the Blackhawks organization.

Then-Blackhawk goaltenders Patrick Lalime and Nikolai Khabibulin both wore Esposito’s #35 jerseys in the pre-game warmups, and Khabibulin recorded a shutout in a Hawks 5–0 win over the Washington Capitals.

Personal life

Esposito and his wife Marilyn had two sons, Mark and Jason. Esposito died on August 10, 2021 at the age of 78, from pancreatic cancer.

In popular culture

Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) wears Esposito’s jersey while playing road hockey in Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World 2.

He made an appearance in the second season of Rent-a-Goalie playing poker alongside his brother Phil.

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