Esposito and Hall: their hearts are with Chicago

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STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

Glenn Hall doesn't have any specific recollections of the 1961 Stanley Cup final, a six-game series he backstopped to give his Chicago Black Hawks their first championship in 23 seasons.

But Hall doesn't need photos or souvenirs of those 11 April nights against the Detroit Red Wings to stir his memories.

Montreal -

Glenn Hall doesn't have any specific recollections of the 1961 Stanley Cup final, a six-game series he backstopped to give his Chicago Black Hawks their first championship in 23 seasons.

But Hall doesn't need photos or souvenirs of those 11 April nights against the Detroit Red Wings to stir his memories.

"If you'd won a few Stanley Cups, I suppose it would be tough to pick out the one that was most enjoyable," he said this week from his home in Stony Plain, Alta. "But it's easy for all of us guys (on the Black Hawks of that era) because we only had the one. It's easy to pick out."

Tony Esposito, then not quite 18, was following the 1961 playoffs at home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. He'd soon be off to Michigan Tech to study business and tend goal for the Huskies of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, where he would loosely pattern his play after Hall, the 29-year-old pioneer of the butterfly style.

"I remember watching Saturday night games - we all had that dream," Esposito said from his home in Tampa before heading up to Chicago for Saturday night's Stanley Cup final opener between the Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers.

"You know how Canadians are with hockey. The guys would say: 'It's Saturday, let's go out,' and I'd just say: 'Hockey Night in Canada. Not tonight.' "

Hall and Esposito defined goaltending in Chicago and well beyond, two giants of the Black Hawks - two words in their day - who kicked and gloved and sprawled their way into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Their hearts are with Chicago on Saturday. Hall will be in an easy chair on his farm in rural Alberta; Esposito will be 2,600 kilometres to the southeast in a United Center loge, where with fellow team ambassadors Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Denis Savard he'll cheer his team while smiling for photos and signing his name until his wrist hurts.

The fraternity of goaltenders is tight, a bond unbroken by distance or borders. Especially when you've worn the same sweater and when four victories separate your team from the Stanley Cup.

"Bet you would have loved to see the Canadiens in there, eh?"

There was a chuckle in Glenn Hall's soft voice, the 78-year-old legend considering how special an Original Six Stanley Cup final might have been between two old rivals.

Hall played all 12 post-season games for the 1960-61 Black Hawks to lift them to a most improbable championship.

The first six games were against the Montreal Canadiens, including a 2-1 triple-overtime Game 3 victory whose Hall-Jacques Plante duel remains one of the greatest playoff goaltending performances of all time.

The next six were against Detroit, with whom Hall had broken into the NHL seven seasons earlier.

"The memories are good and even the years we didn't win, we were good," he said. "I've always believed that 1961 wasn't our best team. We should have won in other years, too."

Hall remembers being summoned to the Red Wings from the Western Hockey League's Edmonton Flyers in 1952.

His NHL debut would be as an emergency stand-in for Terry Sawchuk at the Forum vs. the Canadiens on Dec. 27, Detroit's star goalie having had an instep fractured in practice.

Wearing borrowed equipment, Trans-Canada Airlines having lost his en route, Hall made 32 saves in a 2-2 tie with the Canadiens.

He was paid $89 for each of his six call-up games, in which he went 4-1-1.

Nearly 40 years later, as goaltending coach for the Calgary Flames, Hall and his wife, Pauline, were given two seats behind the Flames' Saddledome net so he could study his pupils. Face value of the tickets, as he recalls: $90.

"I said to Pauline, 'I used to stand in front of the damn glass for less money than the price of one of our tickets behind it,' " Hall said, laughing at the thought.

When expansion sent him to St. Louis from 1967-71, he had a pair of lower-bowl tickets - $5.25 apiece. Told that now would buy roughly half a cup of Bell Centre draft, he laughed again.

"And I'll bet it's all foam."

Hall was at his finest with the Black Hawks, traded from Detroit in 1957. He played magnificently in Chicago for a decade, not missing one start for the first half of it.

The father of butterfly goaltending isn't certain how much he'll watch of the series between his former team and the Flyers.

He doesn't follow hockey a great deal, often discouraged by "the goon game which is needless because the players are so fast and so good."

"I don't need the score that night," Hall said. "I can wait till morning."

He will, however, attend his first Blackhawks Convention this summer, a huge event that last year attracted 10,000 fans for a weekend of rubbing elbows with players present and past.

"It would be nice," Hall said, "if they had a Stanley Cup on the table."

°°°°°

Is this the year the Blackhawks' 49-year drought ends?

"I sorta think so," said Tony Esposito, who flew into Chicago on Friday with his wife, Marilyn.

"It's been nice to see these young guys developing into a good team. It's been so long since they've won. The city would really love it.

"With the resurgence of the Blackhawks, the Cup would be the topper."

Esposito, 67, speaks glowingly of a team that is embracing a history long abused, owner Rocky Wirtz and president John McDonough working to restore a lustre to a franchise that had tarnished through many years of mismanagement and neglect.

He and Hull, Mikita and Savard, enormously popular Hall of Famers, now mingle both with captains of industry and the common fans who are multiplying by the hour.

Esposito's name is tapped one time into the Stanley Cup, but that is as a Canadien for his 13 games played in 1968-69, before he officially was a rookie.

His career took flight when he was claimed for $30,000 by the Black Hawks in the 1969 intraleague draft, Montreal rich in nets with Gump Worsley, Rogie Vachon and a prospect named Ken Dryden.

Esposito would win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, the Vezina as its best goalie, and register 15 shutouts - still a league record - in 1969-70.

Twice he took Chicago to the Stanley Cup final; twice he lost to the Canadiens, in 1971 and '73.

"That's disappointing, naturally," he said of losing seven- and six-game finals to Montreal.

"What really bothered me is that we had a pretty good team when the World Hockey Association arrived in 1972 and we lost Bobby (Hull), who was just hitting his prime, and a couple of other guys.

"I thought we'd have three or four more Cup runs and we'd win one or two at least. But fate is funny. Things happen. We missed that killer, the one key guy in the lineup."

°°°°°

Today, Esposito isn't worrying about a history that cannot be rewritten. He's considering what very special chapter might be penned in the next couple of weeks.

"I'd like to see them win now," he said of a fine young club whose sweater he shares.

"They're a great bunch of kids and we (as alumni), the supporting cast, would really enjoy it."

A great many fans will now be putting wind beneath the wings of their Blackhawks. Among them will be the two best goaltenders to have worn the famous jersey.

"I don't want to put any kind of hex on our team," Esposito said. "But I know that if they play up to the level of their talent, they'll prevail."

Nor is there a prediction coming from a farm in Stony Plain.

"It's been a long time between Stanley Cups for Chicago," Glenn Hall said. "I've always thought, if the puck's in the far end, try to score. If it's in yours, try to keep it out.

"It's a pretty simple game, eh?"

Montreal Gazette

Organizations: Chicago Black Hawks, Blackhawks Convention, Detroit Red Wings Canadiens Philadelphia Flyers NHL Western Collegiate Hockey Association Hockey Hall of Fame United Center Calgary Flames Montreal Canadiens Western Hockey League Trans-Canada Airlines Bell Centre World Hockey Association Montreal Gazette

Geographic location: Chicago, Montreal, Stony Plain Detroit Sault Ste. Marie Michigan Tech Tampa Canada Alberta St. Louis

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  • Ned
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Carcillo and ALL the agitator types of his ilk , who think the games owes THEM something , should heed and learn from the honesty and humility of this man . It makes one yearn for simpler times does it not ????

  • Ned
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    Carcillo and ALL the agitator types of his ilk , who think the games owes THEM something , should heed and learn from the honesty and humility of this man . It makes one yearn for simpler times does it not ????