As the Chicago Blackhawks 2018-19 season countdown continues, we’ll take a look at one player who best wore the same number as there are days left until the season starts. The season starts October 4 against the Ottawa Senators.
The Chicago Blackhawks regular season is now rapidly approaching after a long, dragging summer. Yesterday, we remembered Dave Bolland as there were 36 days until Blackhawks hockey. Now, with 35 days to go, we look at the best (and only) player to wear No. 35 in Blackhawks history, Tony Esposito.
Esposito broke onto the NHL scene amidst the 1968-69 season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Tony O played only 13 games that season, posting a 2.73 GAA and a record of 5-4-4. Following that season, Esposito was claimed by the Chicago Blackhawks. Blackhawks’ team historian Bob Verdi recalls that day as nothing to write home about.
"“When Tony Esposito was obtained by the Chicago Black Hawks on June 15, 1969, it merited only small print in the Windy City,” Verdi said. “The [Chicago] Black Hawks finished last the previous season, he was a spare part for the Montreal Canadiens and, besides, the Cubs were in first place.”"
Well, the Cubs being in first back in 1969 didn’t make much difference to their World Series hopes. Besides, the only years that really matter in Chicago baseball are 1906, 1917 and 2005.
Southside tangent aside, nobody cared too much when Esposito was brought in (like no one cared when the 2016 World Series happened)(alright, I’m actually done now). Though Esposito’s No. 35 is hung in the rafters at the United Center, he wasn’t an immediate success story.
In fact, it was more or less the opposite. In the first game of the season, Esposito got lit up in a 7-2 loss at the hands of current divisional rival, the St. Louis Blues. The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t fare any better in the following games as they got off to a brutal 0-5-1 start.
Then, things changed when the Chicago Blackhawks (spelled Black Hawks at the time) traveled to Montreal to face off against Esposito’s former team. This time, the “story book” game happened. Esposito posted a shut out and, according to Bob Verdi, the Blackhawks started to gain momentum as a result. Verdi recalls the club at the time saying:
"“The Black Hawks, just a .500 team by early January, embarked on a remarkable streak, losing three games in February and only one in March.”"
Three losses in February.
One loss in March.
All of a sudden, the Chicago Blackhawks had found a goalie who could legitimately replace what Glenn Hall was able to do for the team for so many years.
Da Windy City
The situation reminds of Corey Crawford taking over for Antti Niemi, except imagine Anti Niemi being a consistent all star, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy, being a top-six Hart Trophy Finalist seven different times and winning the Vezina Trophy twice, all while with the Chicago Blackhawks for ten seasons.
Then, imagine that Corey Crawford replaced him and won three Vezina Trophies, was a top-ten Hart Trophy seven times, consistently earned all-star game selections and won the Calder Memorial Trophy, all while playing for the Hawks over a 15-year span.
Okay, maybe it’s not as similar as it seems.
The year Esposito took over, he posted a whopping 15 shutouts, a record for any goaltender (or rookie goalie) which still stands today. His shutout numbers helped him to earn the nickname, Tony O.
In his first year with the Chicago Blackhawks, Esposito notched a 38-win season, just months after winning 5 of 13 the year prior. That 38-win year would be the start of seven straight 30+ win seasons for Tony O. He lead the league in wins in that season and the year following.
In that first season Esposito won the Calder Memorial Trophy (awarded to the best rookie) and the Vezina Trophy (awarded to the best goaltender). It was the best performance from any rookie goaltender in the history of the game.