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His team won, but Tony Esposito canceled plans to join teammates and friends for a post-game celebration.

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The Sault Ste. The Marie native was upset that he gave up three goals when the Pittsburgh Penguins visited the Chicago Blackhawks.

“Tony wouldn’t go because they scored three goals against him,” longtime friend Jerry Bumbacco recalled Wednesday. “He was so pissed off. “

Bumbacco, the friend of the great NHL player for 65 years, called Esposito “the ultimate competitor”.

“He hated losing,” Bumbaco said. “I think he hated losing more than winning.”

Esposito, a Sault Ste. Marie native, died Tuesday of pancreatic cancer. He was 78 years old.

“Tony found it (giving up goals) an embarrassment,” Bumacco said. “There was no such thing as a good goal in his mind. “

Esposito and Bumbaco grew up playing bantam, midget and youth hockey together at the Sault. They were teammates at Michigan Tech. He credits Esposito with “persistence, courage and determination” for a 16-year NHL career that included three Vezina Trophies for lowest goals-against average and the Calder Memorial Trophy for top rookie season.

“Tony was intense, but Tony made everyone intense and everyone played better,” said Bumbaco. “He’s improved every team he’s played with. He made every defender better. He wouldn’t tolerate it if you were a coward. (He expected a lot) from himself and everyone around him. He did not take frivolity lightly.

Pat Nardini and Esposito were the Algoma Contractors goaltending tandem during the 1959-1960 season. They share the tasks during the regular season.

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“We both wanted to play all the time, but we understood that both goalies were capable,” said Nardini. ” He was very good. “

Nardini joined friends to watch Esposito play multiple games at Chicago Stadium in his first season with the Blackhawks. The retired St. Mary’s College teacher was in the crowd when his former teammate earned the 12th of his 15 shutouts, a modern-day record.

Esposito downplayed his accomplishment at the time.

“It wouldn’t have made much of a difference who was in goal for most of the season,” he told The Associated Press in 1970. “These guys work so hard in front of the goalie that the job was really pretty easy most of the time. . “

Coach Billy Reay, however, praised Esposito’s efforts in 63 games this season.

“He’s just not giving up on goals and that gives all the guys a boost,” he said. “Nothing will deflate a team faster than bad goals.”

Esposito was named one of the top 100 players in NHL history in 2017. He won 423 of 886 games he played and 151 other games ended in ties. Esposito is ranked 10th in most career shutouts with 76.

“He had the opportunity and made the most of it,” Nardini said of Esposito’s NHL career that began with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1968-1969 season.

He was 40, the oldest player in the league at the end of his career, at the end of the 1983-84 season. Esposito only played 18 games in his last season with Murray Bannerman and Bob Janecyk taking on most of the goalie duties.

“It’s hard to maintain that level of excellence,” Bumacco said of the work that has been done in the NHL. “Your standards are so high. You don’t lose a game and party. You’re moping. You’re supposed to be mope, get ready for the next one.

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Esposito married another native of Sault, Marilyn Mezzomo, in 1966. They met at a YMCA ball when she was 16 and he was 17. She told The Canadian Press in 1973 that she and the two The couple’s sons left plenty of space for Esposito on match days.

“I just leave him alone and the boys away from him,” she said. “He likes to be alone. “

Esposito would go to the basement and watch TV or sleep.

“Hockey has never been fun for him,” said Marilyn. “It’s always been a job.”

In 1970, the former Bank of Montreal clerk told The Sault Star “there’s a lot of pressure” on a team’s goalie.

“If they lose, it’s her responsibility,” said Marilyn. “It’s great anyway. There is a lot of thrill and excitement. There are bad nights and sorrows, but the victories are worth it. “

Esposito’s older brother, Phil, played for the Boston Bruins early in his NHL career. In 1970, they became the first brothers to compete in the NHL All-Star Game in over 30 years.

“I don’t play like any goalie I’ve ever seen,” Esposito told The Associated Press in 1970. “Really, I go out and I flop. But I’m not going to change my style, you can bet on that.

His brother scored both goals for the Bruins when Boston tied Montreal 2-2 in Esposito’s first NHL start in December 1968.

The Esposito brothers were part of Team Canada which faced Russia in the Summit Series in 1972. Tony played four games.

“Their performances were remarkable and contributed immensely to Canada’s eventual victory over Russia,” said a Sault Star editorial at the time.

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Esposito was president of the National Hockey League Players Association for four years. He was also a special consultant for the union. Esposito briefly served as director of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins before joining the Tampa Bay Lightning as director of player personnel, chief scout and goaltender scout in 1991. His brother, Phil , was team president and general manager.

“Obviously this is a unique opportunity for us to work together and assemble and build an expanding franchise,” Phil told The Canadian Press at the time.

The Lightning’s first season was 1992-1993.

Esposito became a team ambassador for the Blackhawks in 2008.

The Esposito brothers received the Sault Ste. Marie’s Medal of Merit in 1972. They joined the city’s Walk of Fame in 2007.

Bumbaco remembers his close friend as “a nice all around guy.

“You would have loved to have a beer with him.”

btkelly@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @Saultreporter

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