Phil Esposito, the man from 1972

Phil Esposito will always be linked to that September night in 1972, when dripping with sweat and wearing various battle scars, he poured his heart out on national television in what many hockey experts claim was the turning point in the historic Canada vs. Russia eight game Summit Series.

 

Minutes after dropping a 5-3 decision in game four and being booed off the ice by 15,570 fans in Vancouver, Esposito, never one to hide his emotions, sparked his team and Canadian hockey fans by expressing in detail on national television his disappointment to those Canadian fans who booed the team instead of supporting them. Esposito didn’t realize it at the time that what he said lit a fire under not only his team but also fans across Canada who after that speech turned those boos into cheers.

 

“When I’m in Canada, I still get people who want to talk about it and they tell me what they were doing at that moment,” said Esposito who collected 1,590 points over his illustrious 18 year NHL career.  “We should have been called Team NHL and not team Canada since Bobby Hull couldn’t play because he was in the WHL.” Enjoying life in the comfort of Tampa Florida, Esposito spends his time playing golf and working on the radio for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Away from the rink, Espo as he is affectionately called made various television cameos in the past including promotional work for Steelback Beer Company along with making cameos appearances on television series such as Rent-A-Goalie and Rescue Me. Besides working with the Lightning, this Sault St. Marie native, elected to The Hockey Hall Of Fame in 1987, does other radio work in co- hosting a daily call in show on XM Satellite Radio’s Home Ice Channel.

Reflecting on his career, which began in 1963-64 with the Chicago Black Hawks, Espo recalled scoring his first of 717 goals against the legendary Terry Sawchuck he mentioned that a highlight of his career aside from winning cups with the Boston Bruins was the special friendships he made in the game.  “I made a lot of great friends and still talk to guys like (Wayne) Cashman, (Dave) Hodge, (Bobby) Hull and Greshner,” said Esposito about his former teammates. “It (career) really goes by quickly and all I can say to the young players is to enjoy it.” Telling his favourite story recently, Espo who is very much in tune with this year’s playoffs and played for the Hawks  until being traded to the Bruins in 1967, laughed when telling a favourite hockey story relating to his little brother Tony who at the time was breaking in with the legendary Montreal Canadiens. Debuting coincidently against the Bruins, Tony faced over thirty shots and according to Phil played “fabulous”, but that didn’t stop the elder Esposito from getting into trouble when talking to his mom and Tony’s wife on the telephone.

 

 “I remember they were excited that Tony played well and they asked who scored the first goal and I said that I did,” laughed Esposito about the 2-2 contest.  They asked who scored the second goal and I said I did and they were not happy.” Espo broke into the N.H.L. at a time when rookies weren’t welcomed by the established veterans who were afraid of losing their jobs at training camp.  Entering his first year with the Blackhawks, Esposito got tested early first in camp by fellow forward Billy Hay who slashed him a few times with his stick.  The rookie’s toughness was also tested during the season as Gordie Howe delivered an elbow to Esposito that cut him open for six stitches.  Once this budding rookie passed these early tests with flying colours, he proved to be a force with the Hawks playing on a line with Bobby Hull. After four years, he was traded to the Boston Bruins where he became the first NHLer to register 100 points in a campaign.  After his 126 point season, Espo continued to put up some lofty stats playing with Wayne Cashman and Dave Hodge. “I loved playing with Boston,” said Esposito. “With a little more discipline we could have won three or four more Stanley Cups.” In 1975/76 Esposito was traded to the New York Rangers where he played until retiring in 1981.

Esposito spent his first three post-retirement years as the General Manager of the New York Rangers before getting involved with the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992, where he served as President until ’98.

 

“Getting the Lightning was my biggest accomplishment,” said Esposito, whose only regret was not coaching them from day one.

 

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Is this Price Right?

Carey Price Carey Price

 

The million-dollar question being asked in Montreal all day Tuesday was who would Montreal Canadiens’ coach Guy Carbonneau put in net for game four Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers? For much of the first round against the Boston Bruins, the Canadiens’ young rookie sensation Carey Price was the toast of the town as he was silencing all the arm chair general managers who were second guessing Habs general manager Bob Gainey for trading veteran net minder Cristobal Huet at the deadline. Price who won 23 games this season for Montreal and played a major role in leading Montreal to an Eastern Conference first place finish, and a first round victory over Boston, has been struggling badly in the last two games against the Philadelphia Flyers. Playing game three in the Wachovia Center, Price couldn’t get into a grove as he allowed 3 goals, including two he should have stopped on just a dozen shots before getting pulled for backup Jaroslav Halak for the third in what was a 3-2 loss that left Montreal trailing 2-1 in their series.

“He is rattled,” assessed coach Carbonneau of his goalie. “He’s 20 years-old and you can’t forget about that.”

Carbonneau, whose team outplayed Philadelphia in registering 34 shots, admitted that no decisions have been made regarding who will play game four, but said that before a decision is made he will talk “softly” with Price before deciding who to go with. “We’re trying to ask this kid to be a saviour for our club. But we had a 5-on-3 for two minutes,” said the coach in deflecting the pressure from his goalie. We had our five best players on the ice and maybe we should blame them also.  Everybody is to blame, not just one guy.” Still, if a team is to be successful in the playoffs, the goalie has to be their best player and so far against the Flyers, Price has a dismal .853 save percentage. Canadiens goalie coach and former NHL net minder Roland Melanson believes that Price might have hit a wall in terms of feeling fatigue in playing so much hockey during the year. According to his teammates, no one has lost faith in Price and what he can do. “He’s shown he can bounce back, so that’s not a concern for us,” said Captain Saku Koivu. Price, who was sensational in leading the Hamilton Bulldogs to an American Hockey League Championship win last spring, should get the start for Wednesday’s critical game. Giving the nod to Price despite the recent struggles will give him confidence in knowing that no matter what, the team is leaning on him to be the guy no matter what.

Do these three have Hart? Thanks to NHL.com

Ovechkin, Malkin, Iginla named Hart finalists
Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer
Apr 29, 2008, 12:36 PM EDT
Alex Ovechkin is the 2007-08 season leader in both goals and points.

The Hart Memorial Trophy signifies excellence. It’s awarded to the most valuable player of the National Hockey League, the one player considered to be the very best among the world’s very best.

In this season’s three finalists, as voted upon by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association, excellence is defined.

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin became the first player in a dozen years to reach 60 goals. He wound up with 65 and a League-best 112 points, capturing both the Art Ross Trophy and the Maurice Richard Trophy.

Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin rose up when last season’s Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain. Malkin wound up finishing second to Ovechkin with 106 points. His 47 goals were fourth in the NHL.

Calgary Flames right wing Jarome Iginla continued to state his case as the League’s finest power forward with second career 50-goal season and 98 points, good for third in the NHL in both statistical categories.

These dynamic players did more than just put up big numbers. Let’s go into details as we dissect the candidacy for each finalist for what is the most prestigious individual award the NHL hands out.

Alexander Ovechkin

Many believe it’s a forgone conclusion that Ovechkin will win this trophy in a landslide. It’s hard to argue now considering he also led the Capitals to the Southeast Division championship after they were dead last in the NHL in late November.

Along the way, Ovechkin set the bar for forwards in the NHL by becoming the first player to score 60 goals in a season since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr both did it in 1996 as members of the Penguins. He also dished out 47 assists to best Malkin by six points in the Art Ross race.

Ovechkin earned the reputation this season as the most dynamic player in the NHL because he was more than just a scoring machine. He was physically imposing, evidenced by his 220 hits, which were ninth most in the NHL and fifth among forwards.

But his goal-scoring prowess and ability to put his team on his back are why many consider him to be a lock. He scored two or more goals in a game 13 times, including three or more three times. He twice scored four goals in a game.

His 22 power-play goals, 11 game-winning goals and 446 shots on goal were all first in the NHL. He was a plus-28, which tied him for seventh in the League. He also played 23:06 per game, which was the third most ice time among the League’s forwards.

Ovechkin also turned into one of the most celebrated players because of his wild celebrations, which many times include him slamming his body into the glass.

Mike Green told NHL.com earlier in the season that “there is not a goal he scores that he doesn’t celebrate like it’s his last one.”

Ovechkin was rewarded for his incredible talent by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis on Jan. 10 with a record multi-year contract worth well over $100 million. There’s no doubt this investment paid off this season.

“Generations come and go and you don’t have the total package, but he’s the total package,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s the power forward with the desire to be the best every time he steps on the ice. It doesn’t take long to become a fan of his.”

Evgeni Malkin

When Crosby slid into the Mellon Arena end boards on Jan. 18 the Penguins’ world looked like it was about to be turned upside down and inside out. Crosby was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, at least six weeks on the shelf was the verdict.

Enter Malkin, last year’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner.

Malkin, who was playing on the same line as Crosby before the captain’s injury, took over his own line with No. 87 up in the owner’s box.

Malkin had 15 goals and 22 assists in the 21 straight games the Penguins played without Crosby. He had 11 multi-point games during that stretch, including six three-point games and one four-point game. He had a 10-game point scoring streak from Feb. 2-21. In eight of those games he registered at least two points. He was the NHL’s First Star of the Month.

The big thing, though, was the Penguins went 11-6-4 without Crosby. That put them in position to eventually win the Atlantic Division crown, their first division title in 10 years, which they did on April 2 thanks to a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Malkin, who during Crosby’s absence ran neck and neck with Ovechkin for the League’s scoring title – he took over the lead for a brief time as well – finished second with 106 points on 47 goals and 59 assists.

His 47 goals were fourth in the League and his 59 assists were sixth. He also had 17 power-play goals, tying him for fourth in the League in that statistical category.

Crosby also missed seven games in mid-to-late March with remnants of that ankle injury. In his absence, Malkin registered nine more points on five goals and four assists, bringing his totals to 20 goals and 26 assists in 29 games without Crosby, who also sat out the season finale on April 6.

Calgary captain Jarome Iginla almost registered his first 100 point season. He fell two points shy with an impressive 98 points during the regular season.

In the 53 games Malkin and Crosby were together, the young Russian center registered 60 points, including 27 goals and 33 assists. So, with or without Crosby, Malkin had a season to remember.

Jarome Iginla

While the dynamic Russian duo was making waves in the East, Iginla was once again carving himself out a fantastic season up in the northwest. Calgary’s powerful captain did it all again to lead his team to the playoffs.

Iginla, who has fast became one of the most recognizable faces in the League and a spokesperson, completed the second 50-goal season of his dynamite career and fell just two points shy of reaching 100 points for the first time. Still, his 98 points were a career-high and his plus-27 rating tied his previous career best in that statistical category as well.

He finished in the top five in the NHL in three categories, including points, goals, and game-winning goals, of which he had nine. His 15 power-play goals were eighth in the NHL and his plus-27 rating was ninth best.

Iginla was consistent throughout the entire year, posting a pair of hat tricks, 12 multi-goal games and 25 multi-point games, including 14 with three or more points and two four-point games.

On the last day of the regular season, Iginla had two assists before potting his 50th goal with 7:25 remaining in what turned out to be a 7-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

After that game Iginla made an MVP move by keeping his team on the ice to shake hands with Trevor Linden, who may have played his last NHL game after 19 excellent seasons.

“It was a very, very classy thing to do,” Linden told reporters. “Jarome is one of the most classy players in the League and he’s probably the best player in the League.”

We’ll soon find out.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.

Summer Olympics

In what can be a history making decision, double amputee South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius has shown his determination away from the track by making a stand in order to being able to compete at the upcoming Beijing Olympics. This 21 year-old sprinter is appealing a decision made by the International Association of Athletics Federations in January that prohibited him from participating due to what they termed his prosthetic blades giving him a strong advantage over able bodied athletes. This conclusion was derived from studies by German professor Gert-Peter Brueggemann who said that the j-shaped blades are in fact energy efficient and gives the athlete a mechanical advantage. Pistorius knows that this case which is supposed to last for two days, at the Court of Arbitration for Sport will have a profound impact on other disabled athletes with dreams of competing. “This case is important not just to me, but to all disabled persons who just ask for the chance to compete fairly on the sporting field with able-bodied athletes,” Pistorius said earlier this month. Despite finishing an impressive second last year in the 400 metres at the able-bodied South African national championships, Pistorius would still need to qualify to race at the Summer Games. Besides for the appeal, which should last only a couple of days until a decision is rendered, this athlete is also undergoing some independent tests from a team out of MIT to prove that he doesn’t have an advantage over his able-bodied competitors. If the appeal is successful than Pistorius would achieve his biggest victory ever as it should open doors and create opportunities for disabled athletes with aspirations to compete and go after their Olympic dreams.

Torn between to Staals

Former NHL legend Phil Esposito once laughed when reminiscing on television about his brother Tony’s first NHL start, which came against Phil and the Boston Bruins. It was on December 5, 1969 when Phil called home after what was a 2-2 game and after telling his worried mom that Tony did really well, got an earful from her after saying that he scored both goals against him.

Even though they are not on the ice, mothers have always had that stressful sick feeling as they live and die with every play as they want their sons to be successful and because of their love, want them to accomplish the ultimate not only in the season but also on the biggest stage of hockey, which of course is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 2003, Scott and Rob Niedermayer’s mother who was at the games admitted to feeling torn up inside as her two sons Scott with the New Jersey Devils and Rob playing for Anaheim Ducks, battled tooth and nail for the Stanley Cup. Their mother talked about how if anything she was pulling for Rob because unlike Scott, he hasn’t experienced winning a Stanley Cup. Still, she admitted to feeling terrible knowing that one of them in the end will be heartbroken. When Scott became a free agent, two summers ago, one reason why he went to Anaheim was because it was always a life- time family dream for the brothers to play on the same team. Their mother also expressed relief of not having to experience those heartbroken feelings of having a dejected son when their teams battle each other in the playoffs. Heading into the second round of this year’s post season, Linda Staal is going through those exact same conflicting feelings as her two sons Jordan (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Marc (New York Rangers) are facing each other which of course is a no win situation for a mom. “My mom is already feeling sick,” said Marc who spoke to her just before the series began. Linda, who has a third son named Eric who won a cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, finds it easier for now to stay home with her husband in Thunder Bay to watch their sons on television, as opposed to watching live. “It’s going to be pretty hard to see them (in this series),” Linda said.  “That’s why we are still here in Thunder Bay. We’ll just watch on television instead. Linda, who admitted that it was hard to take when her sons locked horns in junior, admitted before the series to feeling some nausea but still hasn’t ruled out the possibility if the stress level goes down of attending some games.

 

Playoff hockey takes center stage

Playoff hockey takes center stage

Crosby, Malkin, Jagr, Shanahan … all the big names are on the ice this afternoon (In progress, CBC, NBC, RDS) when the Rangers (ISO Cam) and Penguins (ISO Cam) meet in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

A showdown worth staying up late for

Put on a pot of coffee and get comfortable, because Game 2 between the Stars and Sharks doesn’t start until 9 p.m. ET (VERSUS, RIS, TSN). Will Joe Thornton be the difference? Or can Marty Turco continue his strong play? Tune in and find out.

Weekend Edition has you covered

Pat LaFontaine and Rem Murray both had their careers derailed by head injuries, and now both are doing their best to help others. Also at Weekend Edition are Crashing the Net and an Off The Wall look at an octopus garden in Detroit.

This Draft is shaping up to be a dandy

To get you ready for June’s NHL Entry Draft, NHL.com has profiles on all the top talent, including Colin Wilson, Mikkel Boedker and Jake Gardiner. Plus, see who Central Scouting ranks as the best Draft-eligible talent. Draft Dandy archive

Gear Up for the Playoffs!

The MORE you buy the MORE you save as you support your favorite team in the 2008 NHL Playoffs. From the First Round until the Stanley Cup Finals, Shop.NHL.com is the place to be.

NHL…the Best Media Coverage

THe NHL supplies the best coverage available for 29 Sports to report the most detailed and update information about the Stanley Cup Playoffs 2008. The NHL Media Department has become the leader in keeping editorial sites like 29 Sports a head of the game and give you, the hockey fan, the best and most up-to-date coverage.  

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