The last thing you want to happen in an exhibition game between top rookie prospects? For one of your top prospects to go out with injury.
Tony Esposito made an immediate mark on the Chicago Blackhawks and a lasting impression on the NHL.
Esposito, the pioneering Hall of Famer who spent almost his entire 16-year career with the Blackhawks, died following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, the team announced Tuesday. He was 78.
Esposito debuted with Montreal during the 1968-69 season and appeared in 13 games. He was then left unprotected with the Canadiens deep in goalies and taken by the Blackhawks in an intraleague draft for $25,000, an investment that paid immediate dividends for a team that was coming off a last-place finish in its division.
Esposito helped lead the Blackhawks to first place, showcasing his butterfly style to post a 2.17 goals-against average and 15 shutouts, still a modern record for an NHL goalie. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year as well as the Vezina Trophy given to the top goaltender. He also won the Vezina in 1972 and 1974.
“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. “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.”
The Esposito family called him a “Hall of Fame husband, father, and grandfather.”
“Chicago felt like home from the time Tony first arrived in 1969, thanks to the Wirtz family and those 18,000 Blackhawks fans who treated him like family every night at the Stadium, win or lose or tie,” the family said in a statement.
Esposito was from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, just across the St. Mary’s River from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and he helped Michigan Tech to an NCAA championship in 1965. His older brother, Phil, was a star in his own right, a Hall of Fame center who played 18 seasons in the NHL.
The younger Esposito’s first NHL start was Dec. 5, 1968, against Boston — and his brother. Phil Esposito scored twice on his younger brother, but Tony made 33 saves and the game ended 2-2.
Commissioner Gary Bettman called him “a beloved member of the hockey family.”
“It was Esposito’s style, charisma and heart that endeared him most to hockey fans not only in Chicago but across the NHL,” Bettman said. “The hockey world will miss him greatly.”
Esposito helped lead Chicago to the playoffs in 14 seasons. The Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1971 and 1973, losing each time to his former team, Montreal.
He is Chicago’s career leader with 418 wins and 74 shutouts. His overall record of 423-306-151 ranks 10th in league history. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988, joining his brother. And in 2017, he was selected by the league as one of the “100 Greatest Players in NHL History.”
The Blackhawks retired Esposito’s No. 35 on Nov. 20, 1988, and paid tribute to him again on March 19, 2008. He was named a team ambassador in a pregame ceremony attended by franchise icons and former teammates Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Denis Savard as well as his brother.
“It’s a great feeling to be on this ice again. really miss it, I’ll tell you that,” Esposito said as the crowd chanted “Tony! Tony!” “It’s a pleasure and an honor to be back with the ‘Hawks.”
Esposito also served as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins and as chief scout in Tampa Bay, where he was hired by his brother. Phil is 79 and does radio work for the Lightning, a team he helped found.
“Tony was a founding, cornerstone member of the Lightning family who was a fixture at games and, along with his brother Phil, played in integral role in laying the groundwork for a successful franchise in the Sunshine State when many thought it was impossible,” the Lightning said in a statement. “His role cannot be understated. Tony was a true legend on the ice and off of it.”
Former Blackhawks defenseman Doug Wilson called the news about his friend and mentor “heartbreaking.”
“He exuded leadership and class, while being one of the most dominant players ever seen at his position,” Wilson, the San Jose Sharks’ general manager, said.
Esposito is survived by his wife Marilyn, sons Mark and Jason, Mark’s wife Kim and their children Lauren and Kamryn.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.
The three-run homer launched by Teoscar Hernandez in the fourth inning provided the Blue Jays with enough runs to defeat the Minnesota Twins on Saturday in Toronto, and the blast pushed him past Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the team lead in RBI.
The 6-2 victory also restored the Blue Jays (83-65) to the second wild-card spot in the American League by a half-game over the New York Yankees.
The Yankees (83-66) were thumped 11-3 at home by Cleveland. The Boston Red Sox (85-65) held on to the top wild-card spot with a 9-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
Hernandez has 106 RBI, two more than Guerrero, who has an outside chance at the AL triple crown. He’s first in batting average (.318) and homers (46), and now fourth in RBI, eight behind Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
The 28-year-old Hernandez credits work on his mental game as the reason for his productive and consistent season. He’s not only been reliable at the plate but also in the outfield.
“He’s been the best hitter on a lot of teams,” Blue Jays starter Steven Matz said of Hernandez. “He’s easy to overlook with how good this lineup is. He’s been amazing.”
Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak, a seven-time Olympic medallist, was among 14,722 at the Rogers Centre. She threw out the ceremonial first pitch and tossed a strike.
The Twins appeared headed for a ninth straight win in Toronto dating back Aug. 17, 2017. They led 2-0 after the first inning on a two-run homer to right field by former Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, who also belted a solo shot in Minnesota’s series-opening win Friday.
But Matz settled down after Donaldson’s homer Saturday to retire 16 of the next 17 Twins.
Matz has benefitted from the highest average of run support in Major League Baseball this season at 8.07 a game. He’s won his last four decisions. His 13th win matched Hyun Jin Ryu for the team lead.
“To be in a hole like that, you just want to make good pitches and put up zeroes,” Matz said.
“I just wanted to keep it close and wait for the bats to come alive.”
The bats perked up in the fourth. Minnesota rookie starter Bailey Ober (2-3) took a no-hitter into the inning. The home side got to Ober the second time through the Blue Jays’ order.
Marcus Semien led off the fourth with a solo shot to left field to become only the fifth second baseman in MLB history to hit 40 or more homers in a season.
Yesterday: 31st birthday<br>Today: 40th homer of the season<br><br>Not a bad weekend, huh? 🥳 <a href=”https://t.co/uaSwpoBN6f”>pic.twitter.com/uaSwpoBN6f</a>
Guerrero then walked, and Bo Bichette singled to centre. Hernandez lifted a first-pitch slider high into the sky that barely cleared the left-field fence for his 28th homer and a two-run advantage.
“I knew I hit it good, but just a little high,” he said.
Ober and OUT 💪<br><br>💣 <a href=”https://twitter.com/TeoscarH?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@TeoscarH</a> 💣 <a href=”https://t.co/9HaQgApXkQ”>pic.twitter.com/9HaQgApXkQ</a>
Toronto padded its lead in the seventh when Twins reliever Jovani Moran loaded the bases with walks to Alejandro Kirk, George Springer and Guerrero. Kyle Barraclough replaced Moran and was greeted with a two-run single to left from Bichette.
Bo adds mo’ 🙌 <a href=”https://t.co/E9JULud582″>pic.twitter.com/E9JULud582</a>
A two-out walk to Donaldson followed by a single to centre from Miguel Sano ended Matz’s day after 96 pitches and five and two-thirds innings of work.
Blue Jays reliever Trevor Richards finished off the sixth for Matz. Tim Mayza generated a one-two-three seventh inning and struck out Nick Gordon to begin the eighth.
Righty Adam Cimber finished off the eighth, aided by a brilliant play from Bichette. He went deep in the hole to his right to throw out Donaldson.
The last thing you want to happen in an exhibition game between top rookie prospects? For one of your top prospects to go out with injury.
That’s what happened with Dmitri Samorukov and the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton’s 4-3 prospect game win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.
Early in the first period, after a couple on-ice collisions, Samorukov left the game. It was an ominous moment, all the more so because Samorukov’s season was cut short last year due a shoulder injury. He had just been cleared one week ago to return to the ice from injury. He had been the talk of the first few days of the Oilers rookie camp, impressing team insiders with his great skating and big body.
Winger Xavier Bourgault also took a nasty hit-from-behind into the boards late in the game, missing the final three minutes of the game.
There was no word on the extent of the Samorukov and Bourgault’s injuries at the time we published this post.
Samorukov is part of Edmonton’s Big Boyz Brigade on defence, Edmonton’s group of young and hulking d-man prospects , all of them well over six feet tall.
The group also includes Philip Broberg, Michael Kesselring, Markus Niemelainen, Filip Berglund, Phil Kemp and Vincent Desharnais. They should form the Bakersfield defence this year.
Kemp, Broberg, Niemelainen, Berglund and Kesselring all played in the rookie game.
Each of the Big Boyz Brigade got stronger as the game went on. The Oilers rookies came back from a 3-1 first period deficit to win.
Here are brief reports on each of the Big Boyz Brigade, with my account limited because I was unable to go over video to review the key plays.
Kesselring: He got beat to a rebound on one goal against and failed to block a shot on another. But as the game went on, he got stronger, playing on a pairing with Markus Niemelainen. Kesselring got his feet going and made a number of strong plays, winning, moving and shooting the puck.
Niemelainen: He reminded me a bit of Kris Russell in this one (though a much bigger version of Russell), in that he’s fast on his skates and defensive minded. He also won the puck a few times in his zone and was only able to dump it out, as opposed to making a good pass to get it out. But, overall, got the job done on defence, though he failed to cut out a pass on one goal against and was slow to his man in front of the Edmonton net on another.
Kemp: He scored two bad angle goals, one through a screen and one on a deflection, but he scored them because he jumped into the attack and put the puck at the net. What’s not to like? He did get beat down the wing on one dangerous Flames rush in the first. But he also jumped up a few times to pinch and keep the puck in the Calgary end. This was the best I’ve seen him as an Oilers prospect. After Samorukov went out, he paired up with veteran Yanni Kaldis, who made a few nice passes for assists on the power play.
Broberg: He looked bad on one early goal against, wandering behind the net, and taking himself out of position to stop a slot pass, which eventually ended up in the net. Other than that, though, Broberg played well. He skated miles and skated fast. He was Edmonton’s top d-man on the power play, making a number of good passes and even better pinches in that role. A super solid 2021-22 debut for the Oilers.
Berglund: He looked much, much, much better here than he had when I last saw him play in Sweden in the fall, when he was playing hurt. He too had a bad moment in the first, getting caught in the n-zone on a Calgary rush and goal. But he was Edmonton’s steadiest d-man in this game, shutting down the attack, moving the puck, invariably in position. It looks like he and Broberg will form Edmonton’s top partnership in Bakersfield to start the year.
EDMONTON — The defence turned the tide for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.
DeAundre Alford and Adam Bighill recorded defensive touchdowns as the league-leading Blue Bombers fought their way past the Edmonton Elks 37-22.
“Our defence, scoring two touchdowns for us, that is absolutely amazing when they are able to create turnovers like that and capitalize on them with points on the board,” said Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris.
“Our defence has been our backbone. They really flexed when we needed them to.”
Alford had two touchdowns in the contest.
“I think this is the best defence in the CFL and that we put everybody on notice that we are going to play fast and physical,” he said. “That we are going to do whatever it takes to win.”
The Blue Bombers (6-1) have won four games in a row while the Elks (2-4) have lost two straight and fell to 0-4 at home this season.
Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius went 19 for 33 and passed for 243 yards with three interceptions in his CFL debut as he replaced Trevor Harris, who was placed on the six-game injured list with a neck injury.
“I thought he played really poised,” said Elks head coach Jaime Elizondo. “Listen, for having one day of practice, I thought he came out and showed some things that were really, really encouraging and I thought the guys responded really well to him.
“He didn’t get flustered. I know he’s going to be hard on himself with the mistakes he made. But those interceptions were a credit to the defence, they had some good breaks on the ball.”
Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros went 19 of 24 passing for 252 yards, a TD and an interception.
Winnipeg got off to a blazing start by scoring on its first drive, going 80 yards in nine plays, capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Collaros to Darvin Adams.
The Blue Bombers doubled their lead on their next drive as Nic Demski ploughed his way through several defenders for a 21-yard rushing major to make it 14-0.
Edmonton got back into the game midway through the second thanks to a Christian Rector fumble recovery on the Bombers’ nine-yard-line, leading to a James Wilder Jr. touchdown run.
Winnipeg kicker Ali Mourtada missed a 28-yard field goal attempt before Edmonton’s Sean Whyte nailed a three-pointer from 44 yards out to make it 15-10 at the mid-mark.
Edmonton surged into the lead early in the third quarter with an unconverted 19-yard TD run by Wilder.
However the Bombers regained the lead as Alford picked off Cornelius and took it back 22 yards for the touchdown. A two-point convert made it 23-16 for Winnipeg.
Whyte responded with a 32-yard field goal before Mourtada missed his third field goal attempt of the game from 44 yards.
The Bombers defence did it again late in the third as Cornelius fumbled deep in his own end, leading to a three-yard scoop and score by Bighill.
After Whyte kicked a 19-yard field goal, Winnipeg put the game away with a one-yard TD plunge by Sean McGuire.
Both teams have a bye next week. The Elks’ next game will be in Ottawa on Sept. 28, while the Bombers will be in B.C. on Oct. 1. Winnipeg and Edmonton will then play each other again in a home-and-home series.
Notes: Two highly anticipated players made their Elks debuts: offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers and linebacker Derrick Moncrief… Winnipeg was trying its third place-kicker of the season with Mourtada making his CFL debut, relegating rookie Marc Liegghio to punting duties.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2021.
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