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Biofile Phil Esposito Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: NHL center from 1964-1981 with Chicago, Boston and New York Rangers. Currently serves as a radio color commentator for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

DOB: Feb. 20, 1942 In: Sault St. Marie, Ont.

Early Hockey Memory: “What I really liked the best was when I played juvenile, which was about 16 or 17. It was the last time I played where I never got paid and we won an all-Canadian championship and I was captain of the team. It was just a tremendous thing I’ll never forget. That was just unbelievable.”

Nicknames: “Espo. Shoot, man, I’ve been called Espo my whole life. I’ve been called Skinny when I was a kid. Now I’m called Chubby (laughs).”

Hockey Heroes/Inspirations: “Gordie Howe was one. Mickey Mantle in baseball – he’s why I wore No. 7 in hockey. Rocky Marciano in boxing.”

Favorite Movie: “Godfather, I love that movie. I love One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. And any, I mean any comedy. And I love the old movies – AMC. I like watching those: Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello. The more I watch them, there’s always something that I miss, a line here, a line there. My wife looks at me, ‘You’ve seen that movie.’ I say, ‘Yeah, but there was a line I missed.’ Those are my favorites.”

LeRoy Neiman artwork.

Musical Tastes: “I do not like the hard rock or the rap. I do not like that at all. Even when I was a kid I didn’t like The Beatles and they were in my era. I hated The Rolling Stones. People think I’m like sacrilegious. Grateful Dead – I hated them. I guess I should have been living in the ‘40s and ‘50s because I love (Frank) Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como love songs, ‘It’s Impossible.’ That’s my favorite. Still is.”

Hobbies/Leisure Activities:
 “Golf. I really try hard at golf. I don’t seem to be getting any better at it, to tell you the truth (laughs). I do a lot of charity stuff.”

First Job: “Watering slag to keep the dust down at the steel mill.”

Favorite Meal: “I’m a steak and potatoes man.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Vanilla.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “As an individual? On a team was winning my first Stanley Cup. That was just amazing, Boston, 1970. As a kid growing up, that’s all you ever wanted was to win a Stanley Cup. Even when you made the NHL, it was to win that Stanley Cup. When Bobby Orr scored that overtime goal to beat St. Louis (in four games). We were going to beat them, there was no doubt in our minds. We were up three games to none. And we just didn’t want to go back to St. Louis for the fifth game because they had no business in the business with us. We were just so much better than them.”

Most Painful Moment: “Painful? When I got traded from Boston to New York. It was a total shock and very painful for me.”

Pre-game Feeling: “I was a guy fooling around and joking. I was a jokester so I didn’t really get nervous before the game. Didn’t bother me one way or another, I was ready to go out and play. I hated getting to the rink real, real early. That was stupid. The game was at 7:30, you had to be there at 5:30 – that was stupid. It takes me 20 minutes to get dressed! That’s the way I was. Bobby Orr, for example, went to the rink at 3:00 in the afternoon! He played gin with the trainer ‘til the guys came in. Me, I was sleeping then.”

Funny Hockey Memory: “Bobby Orr cut my socks once in Pittsburgh. Kept pulling them up, pulling them up and they ended up on my thigh because there was no button. And it was cold that night, god it was cold. I put shaving cream in guys’ skates or in his bed. Or short-sheet the bed. So when he gets in he almost breaks his legs trying to get in. You get in, go to put your legs up right away. And you can’t do it. Everybody goes, ‘What the?’ You’re trying to push it, push it. I remember doing that to Mike Walton. I thought he was gonna die. And he was a neat freak. So we’d mess his clothes up and he’d get really pissed (laughs).”

Strangest Game(s): “Playing in Russia in ’72. We did some crazy things over there. We were told by the FBI and mounted police that the rooms would be bugged. And they were. Don’t forget, this is ’72, the Cold War. It was so weird over there. I can’t explain it. They’d phone us at the hotel room at 3 a.m. to wake us up a night before the game. You’d pull the phone out of the wall and they’d come up and fix the damn thing at 4 a.m. Try to get someone to do that here. So things like that were the things that drove me crazy. We won the series there. They beat us in Canada and then we ended up beating the s— out of them. We won three in a row in Russia. First game in Russia we lost 6-5, then we won three in a row. I’m really convinced if we’d played another five or six games with them, they wouldn’t have beat us. I really believe that because we had really become a team. Training camp was hilarious, we were so bad; we were so out of shape.”

Closest Hockey Friends: “Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge, Bobby Orr, Ronnie Greschner, I really like ‘Gresch.’ He became a real good friend of mine.”

Funniest Players Encountered: “Eddie Shack. There’s nobody like Eddie Shack. The nuttiest human being I ever knew. The very first time I ever met him he was walking into the dressing room – we had both got traded to Boston at the same time. And he’s walking into the dressing room – he’s got the skates over his shoulder with the hockey sticks, singing, ‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go!’ And I’ll never forget that as long as I live. Wayne Cashman was funny too, in a different way. Gerry Cheevers had maybe the best sense of humor I ever saw. Sharp as a tack.”

Toughest Competitor: “John Ferguson. Man, he was a fierce competitor. He hated losing, you could see it. Man! Even when he became the GM and coach in New York he punched the s— out of me in the back when we were losing a game. Pow! He nailed me hard too. God. On the bench! He punched me right here in the middle of the back. Took my breath away.”

Worst Injury: “My knee. I had reconstructive surgery on my right knee in 1973. The doctors told me I’d probably never play again and walk with a limp for the rest of my life. And I tell him, ‘You’re full of s—. I’ll be back in training camp.’ I got the operation in April. I skated for the first time Aug. 28 and my leg felt like it was gonna fall off. It was like, loose. I played my first pre-season game Sept. 27 against the Chicago Blackhawks and scored three goals against my brother. I ended up winning the scoring championship and the MVP that year. Got hit by a hip check by Ronnie Harris with the Rangers. Got me with a hip, didn’t see him coming. He nailed me good.”

Favorite Vacation Spot: “I love going to the Caribbean, but I live in Florida now. Just anywhere, laying out and drinking a few beers, reading a book. I mean, I love that. That’s what I like. Then going and getting dressed up and going to dinner at night, dancing and just having a great time with my lady.”

Personality Qualities Most Admired: “Loyalty. I love a loyal person. I like an honest person. I’m the type of person, if I shake hands with someone, it’s a done.”

Career Accomplishments: Elected to Hall of Fame in 1984; Won two Stanley Cups; Played in 10 All-Star Games; Won five Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Memorial Trophies; Won Lester Patrick Trophy in 1978; Scored 717 regular season goals including 118 game-winners; Scored 61 playoff goals; Former GM of the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning.

This Biofile is an excerpt of Scoop’s book 80’s Hockey Biofiles, a compilation of 108 of his 1980’s Hockey Player Biofile interviews. It’s available at amazon for $14.99!

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