A look back (Phil Esposito)
Pat Esposito was a broad shouldered businessman from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He was part owner in a Junior A team, the Greyhounds that was losing money. In contrast, Pat’s son played for the Boston Bruins. Nicknamed Phil-Phillie by his dad, 31 year old Phil Esposito was establishing quiet a name in the NHL.
Just like today, when a kid has a passion to play and chases his or her dreams, they can come true. Pat said ” Ever since he was a little kid, Phil wanted to be a pro hockey player, nothing else.”
Phil won the scoring championship four out of five seasons, he won the Hart Trophy as MVP and was named Canada’s outstanding athlete for his accomplishments in the Team Canada-Russia series. The Canadian government even bestowed the Order of Canada on Esposito. Phil’s hockey peers voted him Outstanding Player in the NHL. “I’m happy. It’s an honor to be picked by the guys on the other teams”, said Phil.
Esposito was a rugged player and very outspoken in the locker room. Unfortunately, a collision on the ice with defenseman Brad Park and winger Glen Sather left him injured and he wore a special corset to ease the pain of a chronic back injury. Esposito acknowledged how good hockey had been to him. He said, “Hockey has been good to me, real good, without it, I’d probably be back in Soo driving a truck.”
When asked what his goals were, Esposito replied “I don’t believe in them. I just want to hep the team win. That’s more important than anything. I never consciously set out to win the scoring championship, but if I do, all the better. The biggest thrill is winning the Stanley Cup. Nothing compares with that, although I will say the series with the Russians was something.”
Esposito remembered a comic moment when he was in Russia. He was skating towards a little Russian girl with a garland of flowers and fell on his rear end. He got up bowed and gracefully grinned. A rough and tough player, but yet gracefully when need be.
Esposito was indentured into the Chicago Blackhawks system as a teenager when he played his Junior A in St. Catherines, ONT. Back then the NHL was structured that if you played for a sponsored team, you were the club’s property. The Blackhawks assigned Esposito to St. Louis in his first pro season and he eventually moved to varsity. He became the center and play maker for Bobby Hull. “I knew my job was to feed Bobby” said Esposito, “with a scorer like him, what else would a centerman do?” Esposito still remember the Chicago press and their antics. They called him a garbage collector, a man who picks up Hull’s droppings on the ice and even stated that he wasn’t a good cloth player.
The turning point was actually in the shower, where Esposito was heard singing ” roses are red, violets are blue, they got six and we got two” after a one sided loss. Esposito was traded to the Boston Bruins and his career began to take shape. At the time the Bruins had a guy named Bobby Orr and a slew of young guys coming up from the juniors and minor leagues. Phil came to form with Boston and became a consistent score, penalty killer and when he parked in the slot and shoots on the net he was by far one of the best scorers in the league. He also became well known for getting his team moving and motivating his team mates.
Many thought Esposito’s career was over when he shoved a referee at Boston Garden. NHL president, Clarence Campbell, said “Regardless of whether Esposito was swearing at the referee or someone else, there is no possible excuse for his subsequent conduct in assaulting the official by charging towards him and delivering two crisp shoves and then following these up with a solid punch.” I am sure there are player’s with the Allen Americans recently that felt like this with some of the calls on the ice. Esposito responded “Once you push a referee, it’s drapes. I will play as long as the team wants me and I can be useful.” He also made it clear that he would never want to coach in the NHL, but he would love to hang around the Junior League upon retirement.
Esposito went on to become an analyst for the NHL on Fox and makes many radio appearances and even Television appearances on television shows and movies. There was even a bumper sticker floating around Boston that said “Jesus Save” and below that it “and Esposito Scores”
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