Hall of Fame goaltender Tony Esposito, who starred for the Chicago Blackhawks for 15 seasons, died Tuesday of pancreatic cancer. He was 78.
Esposito began his career with the Montreal Canadiens but moved to the Blackhawks in in an intraleague draft his second season. He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1970 after recording 15 shutouts, which remains a modern-day NHL record.
He won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie in 1970, 1972 and 1974 and was a five-time All-Star.
He and his brother, Phil, starred in the 1970s, with Tony leading the league in shutouts three times and Phil terrorizing opposing goalies as a six-time NHL leading goal scorer.
Known for his quick glove and as a pioneer of the butterfly goaltending style, Tony Esposito had eight seasons of 30 or more wins (seven in a row) and finished with 423 wins, which ranks 10th all time.
“He was tireless, reliable and a great teammate,” Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said in a statement. “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.”
Esposito’s 418 victories and 74 shutouts with Chicago remain team records. He helped the Blackhawks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1971 and 1973, and his No. 35 was retired by the team in 1988.
Esposito also was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988, joining his brother, who entered in 1984.
The Blackhawks named him a team ambassador in 2008.
“He was born for that role, too, as he reached out – whether by request or on his own – to fans, sponsors, and friends of our team,” Wirtz said. “He rejected thousands of pucks in his first job; he never said no in his second job.”