(670 The Score) Legendary Blackhawks goalie Tony Esposito died Tuesday, the team said in a statement.
He was 78 and had a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
Esposito played his first NHL season for the Montreal Canadiens in 1968-’69 before joining the Blackhawks. He played his final 15 seasons in Chicago, becoming one of the greatest goalies of all time and a fan favorite.
Esposito was a three-time winner of the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie, and he was a six-time All-Star. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, the same year the Blackhawks retired his No. 35.
He remains the all-time Blackhawks franchise leader in shutouts (74) and career wins (418).
“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.
“Our 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 recording 15 shutouts, still a modern record.
“He was tireless, reliable and a great teammate. If you were a new player in Chicago, Tony and (wife) 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.”
Esposito is survived by his wife, Marilyn; sons Mark (Kim) and Jason; and grandchildren Lauren and Kamryn.