The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Phil Esposito

Hockey

1972


Photo of Phil Esposito scoring a goal

Photo of Phil Esposito scoring a goal

Date
1970’s
Collection
Hockey Hall of Fame

A Triumph of Spirit!

The phone rings in a modest bungalow in Sault Ste. Marie, “Don’t worry Ma, everything’s going to be alright.” The assuring voice belongs to Phil Esposito who is 5,000 miles away in Moscow just hours before the defining showdown. Mrs. Esposito has joined millions of Canadians to the brink of a meltdown as Team Canada ’72 faced the Russians for the final and deciding eighth game of a hockey series like no other.

It is one thing to make a pledge to your mother, but what about a nation, that until about halfway through the first period of Game 1 of the Summit Series, had not ever doubted their nation’s hockey supremacy. It was just about then that the supremely well-conditioned, fast, and systematic Russian Team began to erase a 2-0 Canadian lead, ultimately handing them a humiliating 7-3 loss. Four games later the Canadian Team faced a commanding Soviet 3-1-1 lead in a must-win-all situation with three games left on ‘enemy’ turf.

Phil Esposito already had a chat with Canada. On national television, ‘Espo’ delivered his impassioned straight-from-the-heart speech after the team was booed off the ice in a humiliating loss in the fourth and final game on home soil in Vancouver. It demonstrated why he had become the team’s undisputed leader. His spirit fired everyone up and triggered a gut-wrenching coming together.

Espo played the series as a man possessed but never more so than in Game 8. He scored first for Canada, and then with Russia leading 5-3 he delivered a critical goal early in the third period. He followed with an assist on Yvan Cournoyer’s tying goal and in a state of total exhaustion followed up on a Cournoyer/Henderson play that ultimately led to Paul Henderson’s unforgettable winner with 34 seconds left to play. With his legs crumbling, Esposito stayed on the ice for that last shift to shut down the Russians; those few seconds must have seemed an eternity.

Phil Esposito states it very simply, “We just weren’t going to lose, and no way that I would let anybody else lose. We beat the Russians because there were enough guys on our team that just were not going to lose.” (Phil Esposito, personal communication, 26 March 2009). Phil believes you have to inject passion into hockey and he leads by example. Russian Assistant Coach Boris Kulagin concurs, and after the series he surmises that the Russians will not beat the Canadians until they put some emotion into their game.

The heart and soul of the team, Espo was also the series leading scorer, something quite familiar to him. Espo claimed the 1971-1972 NHL scoring title for the third time in four years, while helping his Boston Bruins to the top of the league and their second Stanley Cup in three years.

From Beantown to Moscow in 1972, Phil Esposito showed us why he is one of the best to ever don a pair of skates.

Another award for Espo wins Lou Marsh Trophy Adobe PDF Transcript


Highlights

1969
Hart Trophy
1970, 1972
Won Stanley Cup with Boston Bruins
1970-1971
Set NHL record for goals (76) and points (152) in a season
1970-1971
Lester B. Pearson Award
1970-1974
Led NHL in scoring four straight years
1970-1975
First NHLer to record five straight 50+-goal seasons
1972
Lou Marsh Memorial Award
1972
Summit Series
1974
Hart Trophy
1981
Retired second all-time in goals (717) and points (1,590)