Thursday, February 20, 2014

Happy 72nd Espo

Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Esposito turns 72 today.

The great former Chicago Black Hawk, Boston Bruin and New York Ranger forward was one of the first high scoring players in the NHL, well before The Great One, Wayne Gretzky came along and shattered all the scoring records.

Espo as he was known, scored 50+ goals for the Bruins in 5 seasons. He went from 43 goals in 1969-70 to an amazing 76 goals in 1970-71.

When Esposito scored 76 goals, many thought that record would never be broken, 76 was the all time NHL single season goal scoring record until Gretzky came along in 1981-81 and scored a mere 92 goals. The way the game is played today with better goaltending and defensive systems, Gretzky's record may never be surpassed.

In 1971-72, the following year, Esposito scored 66 and likes to say " People asked me what was wrong!!!"

What I admire most about Espo is he is a straight shooter and is not shy about speaking his mind. To this day, Esposito holds a grudge against former Boston Bruins GM Harry Sinden (no favorite here as well - he was the main reason for me to stop watching hockey for many years)

Sinden traded Esposito to the New York Rangers in 1975 along with Carol Vadnais for greats Brad Park and Jean Ratelle. Joe Zanussi was also a throw in.

Esposito was originally a Chicage Black Hawk and was traded to the Bruins for Pit Martin. (his brother Tony Esposito is also a Hall Of Fame goaltender, also known as Tony O who starred for many years in Chicago as a Blackhawk)

When asked about his former teams, the Bruins and the Blackhawks facing each other in the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Finals last season Esposito, true to his nature, had this to say to Steve Simmons of  The Toronto Sun:

"You want to know the truth," said Esposito, the fifth-leading goal scorer in hockey history. "This series doesn't mean s*** to me. "I have no feeling for these teams. There's nothing emotional about it. They both got rid of me, traded me. So screw them. "I didn't choose to leave Chicago. I didn't choose to leave Boston. I signed a contract in Boston for less money than I could have gotten from going to the WHA. I could have made millions doing that. And you know how they repaid me? Three weeks later, they traded me (to the New York Rangers)."

When Espo says "You want to know the truth" that is exactly what you're gonna get. One of Esposito's most famous moments was during the 1972 Summit Series against the Russians. The series was the first where Canada put together a team of NHL stars to face the up and coming Russians. Most people at the time didn't take the Russians too serious, including Team Canada.

When the series arrived in Vancouver, Canadian fans booed Team Canada and Esposito couldn't contain himself any longer and let loose in an interview.

Of course one of the greatest moments was when the Bruins honored Espo by retiring his number 7 jersey. At the time, Bruins defenseman Raymond Borque was wearing #7 and pulled one of the greatest moments in hockey history at the retirement ceremony.

Espo is still active as a color commentator for the Tampa Bay Lightning and also can be heard on Siruis XM on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:00 pm Eastern along with Scott Laughlin on the In The Slot With Phil Esposito show.

Happy Birthday Espo!

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