Tony Esposito was a reluctant champion in the Summit Series for Canada 50 years ago

Never was his enthusiasm for the competitive challenge of matching up the NHL All-Star 50 years ago this month to take on an unknown team from the Russians, four games to be played in Canada, then four more in Moscow.

“Without my brother, we wouldn’t win this series,” says Phil Esposito, Canada’s leader and undisputed player of the year.

The statistics support the legendary striker’s claim, with Canada winning in the last moments 4-3-1.

The three goalkeepers in the 1972 Summit Series wear their team uniforms: Tony Esposito (left) of the Chicago Blackhawks and Ken Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens (right) Vladislav Tretiak of the Central Red Army in Moscow. Louis Portnoy/Hockey Hall of Fame; Bruce Bennett, Getty Images; Hockey Hall of Fame

Tony Esposito was the best of the three goalkeepers to have played in the historic eight-game streak based on his win-loss and goals-to-average record, and his total goals exceeded those of teammate Ken Dryden and Russia’s Vladislav Tretiak.

Esposito won two games, lost one and drew one, with an average goals-to-go ratio of 3.25 and a keeping ratio of 0.882, scoring 13 goals from the 110 Russian shots he faced. Dryden was 2-2 (4.75 and .838, 19 goals allowed on 117 shots); Tretiak was 3-4-1 (3.87 and 0.884, 31 goals from 267 shots).

Phil Esposito, 80, is still grieving the loss of Tony, the Chicago Blackhawk legend who died on August 10, 2021 at the age of 78 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.

“I think about Tony a lot,” Esposito said this week. “I miss bouncing things off him, arguing about hockey.”

Phil Esposito (right) talks with his brother Tony during Game Two of the 1972 Summit Series at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on September 4, 1972. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame

And then, he glares: “For now, I’d be excited for him about the way the Black Hawks are going. But I know this: He wouldn’t be interested in getting involved in anything to do with the Summit Series anniversary celebration. He didn’t enjoy the experience.”

“I spoke to him for two years, before he got sick, about his upcoming anniversary and he said to me, ‘Don’t include me in anything.’ I said to him, ‘Tony, we have to do something for some guys,’ and he said, ‘You know what, Phil? I did what I had to do for some guys.” I didn’t bother him then.

“I don’t think Tony would ever forgive me for forcing him to play. I mean, if I played, he wouldn’t have a choice. But I’ll say this: If it wasn’t Tony, we’d be talking about Canada after I lost the series.”

Tony Esposito (left) celebrates the 1969-70 Calder Cup as the NHL Rookie of the Year with his brother Phil; and photo of the 1972 Esposito Summit Series. UPI/Hockey Hall of Fame; Graphic Artists / Hockey Hall of Fame

Ten years ago, 14 members of Team Canada were in Russia to celebrate the series’ 40th anniversary with members of Team Russia. Phil Esposito was part of the group; It wasn’t Tony. There was no bitterness. The goalkeeper had played in 1972 and simply continued his life.

“I’ve been invited this time, and I’ve been invited before,” Esposito said from his summer home in Wisconsin. “Phil went a little while ago and he’s there now. They wanted me to go and do some stuff, run around the rinks, but I don’t. I’m not doing Russia. There anytime soon. Or at all.”

The man known as Tony or will be true to his word. The goalkeeper left Moscow with his colleagues on September 29, 1972, and never returned.

Tretiak played every 480 minutes of the series for the Russians. Esposito and Dryden were equally splitting the workload for Canada, with coach Harry Sinden selecting goalkeepers with equal intuition and strategy. Dryden played games 1 and 4 in Canada, both with two losses, and games 6 and 8 in Moscow, both winning; Esposito played matches 2 and 3 in Canada, a win and a draw, and matches 5 and 7 in Moscow, a loss and a win.

None of it, Esposito remembered, was much fun.

Canada goalkeeper Tony Esposito prepares for a shot by Russian Vladimir Petrov, defender Bill White arrived to try to block. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

The brothers happily ran a summer hockey school in their hometown of Sault Ste. Mary, Ontario, when a call came in from NHL Players Association president Alan Eagleson, co-organizer of the Summit Series.

Tony Esposito recalls in 2012: “At the time, Phil and I thought, ‘We don’t want to go to another hockey tournament. That’s all we thought wouldn’t be a big thing. But after talking to them I thought it was pretty important, so we decided to let The other players ran our school and we left for the (August) training camp in Toronto.”

Phil Esposito would be one of four players to wear an “A” on his jacket (the others were Frank Mahofflish, Stan Mikita and Jan Ratel), Sinden and assistant coach John Ferguson chose not to name a captain. As the series developed, it became clear to everyone that Phil was indeed the captain, the leader by an act on the ice and with a word from him.

The brothers were an obvious choice on the menu.

Goalkeeper Tony Esposito with Team Canada for a match in Moscow. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

Phil won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 1971-72, and won the Art Ross Award as the top scorer in the National Hockey League. Tony, who was voted in 1969-70 for the Calder Award as the NHL Junior Player of the Year, won the 1971-72 Vesina Cup, then awarded to the goalkeeper(s) whose team allowed the fewest goals in the regular season. He had led the league with an average of 1.77, 0.934 savings (then unofficial category) and nine closes.

“Everything they wanted to do at the grid was fine with me,” Esposito said of splitting the summit series duties with Dryden, who had just won the 1971-72 Calder race with the Montreal Canadiens after winning the 1970-71 Stanley Cup and the Con Smith Cup. As the best player in the postseason.

“I got on with Kenny really well and we’re still fine. He doesn’t get his BA with me. You know how cool everyone looks? He wasn’t that way with me.

“But it’s funny,” he added with a laugh. “Kenny didn’t want you to know anything. He spoke in circles.”

Tony Esposito is helped by defenders Brad Park (left) and Guy Lapointe (seated) with striker Phil Esposito during a match in Moscow. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

Two Canadian scouts sent to Russia returned with reports claiming that the Russians would be outcasts. That they found Tretillac in just one match, the day after the goalkeeper’s stag party when he played horribly, and perhaps saw two balls, he was of little use.

“So we didn’t train like we should have been training,” Esposito admitted from the Toronto training camp, which ran from August 13 to September 1. I don’t have any problems.”

Operation Shell 7-3 in Game 1 at the Montreal Forum on September 2 suggested otherwise.

The Canadian reserve goalkeeper that night made abundant mental notes from the end of a stunned bench.

Ken Dryden (left) and Tony Esposito shared Team Canada’s top goal series equally. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

said Esposito, who enhanced the butterfly style that Glenn Hall pioneered with the Detroit Red Wings, then Chicago. “From that series, in particular, the concept of challenging shooter has changed dramatically.”

In his 1973 book Face-Off At The Summit, Dryden explained frankly and in minute detail how Esposito’s butterfly style was more appropriate against the Russians than his style of standing, corner cutting, and challenging shooting.

Esposito received Sinden’s call for the decisive Game 2, a 4-1 win in Toronto on September 4, and again for Game 3, a 4-4 draw in Winnipeg on September 6. Dryden returned for Game 4 in Vancouver, a 5. 3 loss on September 8, sending the series to Moscow with the Russians leading 2-1-1.

Esposito was on the grid for Game 5 on September 22nd, which would be a massive crash. After 4-1 nine minutes into the third half, the Russians scored four equal-strength unanswered goals to win 5-4. Canada now faced two knockout matches, even if they win, it would be a winner’s win all 8 match.

Vladimir Vikulov (seated) and Yevgeny Myshakov follow a ball into the corner with Team Canada goalkeeper Tony Esposito. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

Dryden netted a 3-2 win in Game 6 two nights later, then Esposito returned with his best performance of the series on September 26, making 28 saves in a 4-3 victory in Game 7, ignoring that had been drilled by Boris Mikhailov’s shot. To his unprotected neck with a score of 2-2.

“There was a lot of pressure on us,” he said, and the two teams tied 2-2 before the third half of the penultimate match. “I am proud that I put our team in a position to win that match.”

Dryden outplayed the Russians in a thrilling 6-5 series for Canada on September 28. The Canadians flew the next day to Prague, where they played a 3-3 draw against defending champions Czechoslovakia on September 30, and Dryden in goal, before then. rent a house. Esposito, like his brother, remembers best the joy and even comfort of being back in North America, “to where all was normal.

“Everything was gray or beige in Russia,” he said. “There was no color – all the cars were neutral. And it was a very oppressive society. You weren’t allowed to express yourself.”

Canada defender Guy Lapointe moves to puck past goalkeeper Tony Esposito. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

If there were sights to be enjoyed on buses and walks in historic Moscow, Esposito wore the flasher, concentrating solely on his playing and almost counting the days until the flight departed. He’d say it took him a while to put his head right at the start of the 1972-73 NHL season with the Blackhawks, winning only three times in his first 10 games.

A three-time winner of Vezina, Esposito was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, four years after Phil. His 15 lockouts in his rookie season with Chicago remain the record in the modern league.

Esposito’s death last year adds to the sad and long list of 1972 Top Series roster players who are gone. He joined the late Canadian strikers Rod Gilbert, Stan Mikita, Bill Goldsworthy, JB Barris and Richard Martin, defenders Gary Bergman, Pat Stapleton, Bill White and Brian Glenney, as well as assistant coach John Ferguson.

Peter Mahovlich skates behind goalkeeper Tony Esposito during Team Canada’s in-team game at Maple Leaf Gardens prior to the start of the 1972 Summit Series. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame

Twenty-one members of the large Russian battalion were also killed, including coach Vsevolod Bobrov, assistant coach Boris Colagin, strikers Valery Kharlamov, Vladimir Petrov, Vladimir Shadrin, defender Valery Vasiliev, Alexander Gusev and Alexander Rajulin.

Ten years ago this month, Tony Esposito thought deeply about the Summit Series, returning to September 1972 in detail for the last time in his life.

“The Canadians were the best at hockey, we knew that,” he said. And we were tested. People thought maybe we weren’t superior, as the series went on. Everyone had doubts.

“But I think we won because of our upbringing. Because of the way we deal with people, we don’t give up. When things get tougher, we fight harder. And I think that was the difference between societies at the time as well.”

TOP PHOTO: Tony Esposito stops Russia’s Valery Kharlamov during game two of the 1972 Summit Series at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on September 4, 1972. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame

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