Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Tony Esposito, 78, passed away Tuesday, the Chicago Blackhawks announced.
Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said in a statement that Esposito had a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
Esposito — brother of Hall of Fame center Phil Esposito — was a five-time All-Star and three-time Vezina Trophy winner. His 423 career wins rank 10th all-time in NHL history in wins (423). He played 15 of his 16 NHL seasons with the Blackhawks, becoming the team’s all-time leader among goaltenders in games played (873), wins (418) and shutouts (74). Esposito was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 and his No. 35 was retired by the Blackhawks on Nov. 20, 1988.
Esposito was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players by the league in 2017.
“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,” NHL commissioner Gary 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.
“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. The hockey world will miss him greatly.”
The Esposito family called him a “Hall of Fame husband, father, and grandfather.”
“Chicago felt like home from the time Tony first arrived in 1969, thanks to the Wirtz family and those 18,000 Blackhawks fans who treated him like family every night at the Stadium, win or lose or tie,” the family said in a statement.
During an illustrious college hockey career at Michigan Tech, Esposito was a three-time first-team All-American and a leader on the 1964–65 NCAA championship team.
Esposito then embarked on a successful professional hockey career, starting with the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Hockey League in 1967 and got his shot in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens the next season.
But in 1969, Chicago claimed him on waivers in what was known as the intra-league draft. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie after recording a 2.17 goals-against average and setting a then-modern-day NHL record with fifteen shutouts.
“Tony was one of the most important and popular figures in the history of the franchise as we near its 100th anniversary,” Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz said. “Four generations of our family — my grandfather Arthur, my father Bill, my son Danny and I — were blessed by his work ethic as a Hall of Fame goalie, but more importantly, by his mere presence and spirit.”
Esposito is survived by his wife Marilyn, sons Mark and Jason, and grandchildren Lauren and Kamryn. His brother, Phil, is 79 and does radio work for the Tampa Bay Lightning, which he helped found.