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Hall of Fame goalie Tony Esposito dies at 78

Former Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Tony Esposito (L) is greeted by his brother Phil during a pre-game ceremony before the NHL hockey game between the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, March 19, 2008. REUTERS/Frank Polich (UNITED STATES)
Former Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Tony Esposito (L) is greeted by his brother Phil during a pre-game ceremony before the NHL hockey game between the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, March 19, 2008. REUTERS/Frank Polich (UNITED STATES)

Hockey Hall of Fame goalkeeper Tony Esposito died Tuesday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 78.

Esposito was a three-time Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalkeeper, the league’s top rookie in 1969-70 and was a six-time All-Star selection. He played the final 15 of his 16 seasons (1968-84) with the Blackhawks.

“It is a sad day for the Blackhawks and all of hockey. But with his wonderful family, let us celebrate a life well lived,” Chicago chairman Rocky Wirtz said in a statement announcing Esposito’s death. “Tony Esposito’s banner will be part of the United Center forever, as will his legacy as a superstar, on and off the ice.”

Esposito is the younger brother of legendary Phil Esposito, who also is a member of the Hall of Fame.

Tony Esposito is tied for 10th in NHL history with 76 shutouts — the first two coming for the Montreal Canadiens and the rest for the Blackhawks. His 15 shutouts during the 1969-70 season tied for second in league history.

He recorded a 423-306-152 record in goal and posted seven straight 30-win campaigns from 1969-76.

Nearly a quarter century after his playing career ended, Esposito began serving as an ambassador to the Blackhawks in 2008.

“Tony’s number 35 has long been retired, but his career with the Blackhawks actually encompassed two marvelous chapters,” Wirtz said. “After all those years of making spectacular saves and hearing chants of ‘TO-NEE!! TO-NEE!!’ throughout the Stadium, he joined the Blackhawks as an ambassador.

“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. He rejected thousands of pucks in his first job, he never said no in his second job.”

In 2017, Esposito was named as one of the top 100 players in NHL history by the league.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was among the people paying their respects to Esposito on Tuesday.

“The National Hockey League, the Chicago Blackhawks and the city of Chicago lost a beloved member of the hockey family earlier today with the passing of Tony Esposito,” Bettman said in a statement. “From his arrival in the Windy City in the late 1960s through an illustrious playing career and decades as a franchise icon, Tony left an indelible mark — both on the ice and in the community — over the next 52 years.

“Beyond the individual awards — and there were many, including a Calder Trophy, numerous All-Star and Vezina Trophy recognitions, and ultimately election to the Hockey Hall of Fame — it was Esposito’s style, charisma and heart that endeared him most to hockey fans not only in Chicago but across the NHL. ‘Tony O’ was a fierce competitor who also took great pride in being an entertainer, whether it was with his pioneering butterfly style during his playing days or interacting with fans across the League as one of this game’s great ambassadors.”

Phil Esposito, who is 79, still stands seventh on the NHL’s all-time goals list with 717 and 10th in points (1,590).

–Field Level Media

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