CHICAGO (CBS) -- Blackhawks icon Tony Esposito died Tuesday after a battle with pancreatic cancer, the team announced.
Esposito was a goaltender for the Blackhawks from 1969 until 1984.
"Tony was one of the most important and popular figures in the history of the franchise as we near its 100th anniversary," Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz said in a statement. "Four generations of our family—my grandfather Arthur, my father Bill, my son Danny and I—were blessed by his work ethic as a Hall of Fame goalie, but more importantly, by his mere presence and spirit.
As Wirtz noted, the Blackhawks drafted Esposito from the Montreal Canadiens on June 15, 1969. The Blackhawks had finished in last place in the East Division the season before, but after Esposito took over as the number one goalie, the Blackhawks leapt to first place in his first season with 15 shutouts – in what remains a modern record.
"He was tireless, reliable and a great teammate. If you were a new player in Chicago, Tony and (his wife) Marilyn always made you feel welcome and comfortable. Rookies were invited to their home for countless dinners, and when the Espositos held their annual Christmas party, everybody associated with the Blackhawks was there. Everybody, whether you were an established veteran or an awed rookie," Wirtz wrote.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also issued this statement:
"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," Commissioner Bettman said. "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. Beyond the individual awards – and there were many, including a Calder Trophy, numerous All-Star and Vezina Trophy recognitions, and ultimately election to the Hockey Hall of Fame – 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 with 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. The NHL family extends its deepest sympathies to his wife, Marilyn, sons Mark (Kim) and Jason, and grandchildren Lauren and Kamryn."
Esposito was 78 years old.
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