Chicago Blackhawks legend and Hall of Fame goalie Tony Esposito, shown in 1973, won three Vezina trophies with the franchise as the league's top netminder. Photo courtesy of Chicago Blackhawks/Wikimedia Commons
Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Hall of Fame goaltender Tony Esposito, who starred for the Chicago Blackhawks over 15 seasons, has died at the age of 78.
Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz said in a statement Tuesday that Esposito died after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
"The Blackhawks and the National Hockey League have lost a legend in Tony Esposito, who passed away today after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. As we mourn with his wife Marilyn, sons Mark (Kim) and Jason, and grandchildren Lauren and Kamryn, we celebrate Tony's life and contributions to the Blackhawks and the community," Wirtz said.
"... 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."
Before the 1969-70 campaign, the Blackhawks claimed Esposito from the Montreal Canadiens on waivers, known at the time as the "intra-league draft."
Esposito quickly transformed into a star in Chicago, earning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year that season. He also won the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie, and he was an All-Star selection.
Over his 15 seasons with the Blackhawks, Esposito won the Vezina Trophy two additional times and made four more All-Star teams.
"The National Hockey League, the Chicago Blackhawks and the city of Chicago lost a beloved member of the hockey family earlier today with the passing of Tony Esposito," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a news release Tuesday.
"From his arrival in the Windy City in the late 1960s through an illustrious playing career and decades as a franchise icon, Tony left an indelible mark -- both on the ice and in the community -- over the next 52 years.
"It was Esposito's style, charisma and heart that endeared him most to hockey fans not only in Chicago but across the NHL. 'Tony O' was a fierce competitor who also took great pride in being an entertainer, whether it was his pioneering butterfly style during his playing days or interacting with fans across the league as one of this game's great ambassadors. The hockey world will miss him greatly."
Born April 23, 1943, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Esposito helped the Blackhawks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1971 and 1973, though Chicago lost to the Canadiens each time. He ended his career with a 423-306 record with 152 ties and 76 shutouts.
Esposito had his No. 35 retired by the Blackhawks in November 1988. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame that same year.
Esposito's older brother, Phil, was a Hall of Fame center who played 18 seasons in the NHL.
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