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Friday, November 1
Esposito on record: 'I had no clue'

By Rob Parent
Special to

Phil Esposito played hockey for three of the NHL's Original Six teams over parts of three decades. The prime of his Hall of Fame career came as a dominant center with the Boston Bruins from 1967-68 to 1975-76.

Phil Esposito retired in 1981 second to Gordie Howe in career goals and points.
He was the first player to break the 100-point plateau in the NHL, scoring 126 in 1968-69. In 1970-71 he set the NHL's single-season records for most goals (76) and points (152), shattering Bobby Hull's mark (58 goals) and his own from two seasons before. When he finished his career in 1981, he ranked second in the NHL in goals (717) and points (1,590).

His best attribute was his shot, which he usually unloaded from about eight to 10 feet outside of the goalie's crease.

"Espo" benefitted from his point-blank positioning particularly well on the power play. He was a big, thick pug for his day, and even as he withstood a flogging from penalty-killing stick swingers, Espo would get his shots in. Eventually, 249 of them went in, which made him the greatest power-play scorer in league history. But even for all-time shooters, all things must pass.

It's taken more than 20 years, but when the Tampa Bay Lightning -- a team he helped found -- visit the Washington Capitals on Friday, Lightning winger Dave Andreychuk will need one to tie and two to surpass Espo's dusty record.

Andreychuk, a 39-year-old kid who entered the NHL soon after Espo retired (1982-83), has tried to low-key this milestone. But a guy like Espo should be eating it up. A hockey executive and broadcaster in various capacities over the last 20 years, he now does color work on Lightning home games for a radio station that calls itself The Sports Animal. So he could use some dignified attention.

To have seen and certainly heard Espo in times triumphant, ignominious and boorish, you'd suspect a conversation about one of his smashing records would lean from gracious toward grandiloquence. After all, it isn't every day that Espo gets the chance to answer his cell phone and talk about the glory days...

Caller: Phil, I'm writing a column about Andy breaking your record.

Phil Esposito: Who? ... oh, that. Why?

C: Someone may not know that this record being broken after 21 years is a pretty significant achievement.

PE: Why? Who knew? Who cares? Ah ... maybe they do.

C: Sure. You think they just talk about Bobby Orr? So tell me how you scored all those power-play goals.

PE: Bobby Orr.

C: Besides him.

PE: That's it. Either he or I would carry it up and I would circle. Bobby was the best in the world passing to you and then going like hell to get it back. No standing still with Bobby.

C: But you did stand still?

PE: What I did and what David (Andreychuk) does is the same style. The only other guy to do that was Tim Kerr. We all got in front. The thing about David is he has tremendous eye-to-hand coordination and that has not left him. But he was like me in that we stood a little farther out than (Kerr) did, out by the hashmarks. But anywhere from the hashmarks to the front of the net, you'd take a beating.

C: Did that shorten your career? You only played 18 years.

PE: What's David played? Might be 20 years now. We weren't able to do that in our day. Different times now, you know?

C: Yeah, you guys weren't exactly on a year-round fitness regimen, eh?

PE: Doesn't matter about training. There's more injuries now than ever before. But it was different with us. Can't hurt fat, you know what I mean? These guys today didn't have to work in the summertime to make a living like I did until I was 31 years old. I drove bulldozers and heavy duty equipment.

C: So that kept you in shape?

PE: I said I drove. I didn't work with it. I remember one time I drove over my dad's half-ton truck. He was the foreman. He was so hissed off that he suspended me. Gave me five days off. I said, "Can't you give me more?" I wanted to play softball.

C: Is that why you crushed the truck?

PE: Hey, there was a blind spot! Turned right ... crunch, crunch, crunch.

C: Oh. Uh, are you gratified to see Andreychuk breaking your record with the team you work with?

PE: Hell, I didn't even know it until somebody told me on the air. One of those guys I worked with ... David (Mishkin) or Johnny (Ahlers, now with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), I don't know who it was. Anyway, he says, "Espo, do you know who scored the most career power-play goals in the history of hockey?" I said no, but I was thinking it had to be Bernie Geoffrion or Jean Beliveau, because Montreal had such great power-play men. And then this guy says, "No, it was you." Damn.

C: But don't you care about having one of your records broken?

PE: I haven't even kept a lot of my old stuff. I don't know where it is. Never cared. I remember Gretzky going after his 77th goal that first time. The league asked me to go with him. So I'm in Detroit one night and he doesn't do it, then we go to another city and he doesn't score there, and then we get to Buffalo. I said, "Wayne, please. I can't stand this anymore. We all know you're gonna break it, so please go get it! I want to go home!" He did. And I did.

C: In a blaze of glory, I suppose?

PE: Look pal, my feeling is this: Why is a record set? It's set because somebody else is gonna break it. For me, I cared that I was the first guy to get 70-something goals and more than 150 points in a season. That's it. But power play? I had no clue.

C: Then there really wasn't any reason to call you?

PE: Ah ... I hope David gets it at home so I'm there with him. But somebody asked him to pose for a picture with me yesterday and he said no. He says he won't do that until he breaks it. That's OK by me. I'll be glad to do it if he wants to, but if he doesn't, who gives a ...

Rob Parent of the Delaware County (Pa.) Times is a regular contributor to

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