The previous season, Esposito had played only 13 games for the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens before being drafted (on June 15, 1969) by the last place Chicago Blackhawks. Going into the game on October 25, Montreal had yet to lose a game while Chicago had yet to win one. Thanks to Esposito, the Blackhawks returned to Chicago much better off than they had been and rose through the ranks. They only lost three games in February and one in March before going on to finish the season in first place. Esposito’s 15 shutouts that rookie season put him ahead of all but a few goalies who played back in the 1920s. Although his brother Phil’s Boston Bruins swept the Blackhawks during playoffs that season (and went on to win the Cup), Tony “O” took home the Calder Trophy (as best rookie) and his first (of three) Vezina Trophy (as best goaltender).
Over the course of his 15 years with the Blackhawks, Esposito spent 12 of them ranked in the top ten for shutouts. He topped the league three times and came in second another five. When interviewed, Esposito said, “You’ve got to have a good team in front of you to get shutouts. . . . When you are setting records, you have to have a real good team.” He took the blame for every goal even though his high concentration levels and athletic butterfly style prevented most of them. When Esposito retired, his 76 shutouts and 423 victories set Blackhawks records and placed him in (a three-way tie for) ninth overall in shutouts.
At his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, Esposito said, “I’ve dedicated my life to playing goal. I gave everything I had.” Later that year, the Blackhawks retired his No. 35. He had been the first to regularly wear the number as a goaltender. The first time he wore the number, at an exhibition game before his first season with Chicago began, he shutout his opponents.
- Brian McFarlane, Brian McFarlane’s History of Hockey (Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing Inc., c1997), 108-109.