Philip Anthony Esposito, born February 20, 1942, grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, and like most hockey players, his background was blue collar. His father, Pat, was employed by the Algoma Steel Mill. Esposito did not show an interest in playing hockey until he was almost a teenager. At 12, he failed to make his local bantam team. By virtue of a sponsorship agreement, the Chicago Black Hawks owned Esposito's NHL rights, but even though he advanced to the Hawks' St. Catherine's junior team, he never became a great skater, but strength, enthusiasm, and a uncanny scoring ability carried him through most of his exceptional career.
" Phil wasn't very serious as a junior," recalls Ken Hodge, who played with him. " All he though about was going back to the Soo and driving a truck. I don't believe he had any serious hockey ambitions, but when he went to St. Louis( in the Central League) and started to play well he realized he had a career."
Esposito certainly could clutter an opposing crease and he had an instinctive knack for passing. Locked in the big body were the skills and vision of a 5'10" center. The Black Hawks installed him as Bobby Hull's set-up man in 1965, but Esposito's salvation came in a trade to the Bruins two years later, Chicago deemed him expendable after Esposito failed to earn a single point in the 1967 semifinal series loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Esposito would prove a revelation in Boston. In his second season as a Bruin, he became the league's first-ever 100 point player and shattered Hull's record for most goals in a season by 18 with a stunning 76 goal season in 1970-1971.
That same season, Esposito took an incredible 550 shots on goal to set a record nobody has approached or likely ever will. He is runner-up to himself (426 the following year) and Bobby Hull's 414 in 1968-69 is the next highest total.
Esposito would win two Stanley Cups, five Art Ross Trophies and totaled at least 55 goals in five consecutive seasons with the Bruins. He also left a marvelous legacy of scoring statistics: 1,590 points on 717 goals and 873 assists in 1,282 games over an 18-season span. His finest moments were rendered in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. Originally, Esposito didn't want to play.
When pressed by the media he said he had commitments to his summer hockey school and feared a career-ending injury, but feeling coerced by the media and pressured by fans, he went to camp.
When he scolded the nation on television for booing Team Canada after the team badly lost its final home game, Esposito's grip on the team's leadership became unshakeable.
Esposito courted drama. When he fell during introductions for the first game in Moscow, he got up on one knee and delivered a grand bow. Then he stood up and played the best hockey of his life in the historic series. Esposito was also the individual leader and top point scorer for Team Canada with 7 goals and 6 assists.
A loud, boisterous personality, Esposito commandeered a dressing room. His locker was a shine to superstitions, plastered with clovers, amulets and a picture of opposing players hung upside down to ensure their own bad luck.
But it was the strength of his personality that eventually forced him out of Boston.
Bruins' general manager Harry Sinden knew Esposito would never accept the incursions into his role that would come with age and in November of 1975, shipped the 33-year-old star to New York in a deal that brought Brad Park to Boston.
" The coaches and management were under his power too," Sinden said later. "We always felt we had to use him in most situations. His presence became overwhelming."
Maybe, but the heartbeat of the most rollicking era of Bruins' hockey had been stilled.
" Phil Esposito," said his one-time Bruin teammate Walt McKechnie, " is the best team leader I ever played with. He took me and made me feel as important as Bobby Orr."
Phil Esposito was inducted to the hockey hall of fame in 1984 and had number 7 retired in Boston on December 7, 1987.
Copyrightę2004 Esposito's Legends of Hockey
3 Point Limited LLC 2004