Tony Esposito, the Blackhawks' winningest goaltender, died on Tuesday after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 78.
Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz released a lengthy statement on the passing of a franchise legend:
"The Blackhawks and the National Hockey League have lost a legend in Tony Esposito, who passed away today after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. As we mourn with his wife Marilyn, sons Mark (Kim) and Jason, and grandchildren Lauren and Kamryn, we celebrate Tony’s life and contributions to the Blackhawks and the community.
Tony was one of the most important and popular figures in the history of the franchise as we near its 100th anniversary. 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.
Likewise, four generations of hockey fans grew to love Tony. We were lucky enough to draft him from the Montreal Canadiens on June 15, 1969, for a sum of $25,000. The Blackhawks had finished in last place of the East Division the previous season. Tony immediately took over as the No. 1 goalie, and led the Blackhawks to an unprecedented leap to first place in his first season while recorded 15 shutouts, still a modern record.
He was tireless, reliable and a great teammate. 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. Everybody, whether you were an established veteran or an awed rookie.
Tony’s number 35 has long been retired, but his career with the Blackhawks actually encompassed two marvelous chapters. 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.
It is a sad day for the Blackhawks and all of hockey. But with his wonderful family, let us celebrate a life well lived. Tony Esposito’s banner will be part of the United Center forever, as will his legacy as a superstar, on and off the ice."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement on the passing of a Hockey Hall of Famer:
"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,” Commissioner Bettman said. “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.
"The hockey world will miss him greatly. The NHL family extends its deepest sympathies to his wife, Marilyn, sons Mark (Kim) and Jason, and grandchildren Lauren and Kamryn."
Esposito spent 15 of his 16 NHL seasons with the Blackhawks, where he ranks No. 1 in franchise history with 873 appearances, 418 wins and 74 shutouts. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender three times (1970, 1972 and 1974), was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 and had his No. 35 retired by the Blackhawks on Nov. 20, 1988.