More From Espo
It’s always good to talk hockey with Phil Esposito, but my conversation last week in Tampa with the Hockey Hall of Famer was even more enjoyable than usual. Unprompted by me, Espo lauded Alex Ovechkin for the Hart Trophy regardless of Washington’s postseason fortunes, or lack thereof.
I wrote up my case for Ovie on washingtoncaps.com, and there were a few quotes from Espo that I found enlightening and interesting, but which weren’t necessarily germane to the piece. Rather than let them wither on the cutting room, I’ll share them with you here.
I mentioned to Espo how different he and Ovie are as players, and this is what he had to say about who helped him get to 60 goals (and beyond):
“My wingers. See, we played it different. Harry Sinden was the coach the first year I got there and he said, ‘We’re going to make you our goal scorer.’ I said, ‘Fine. Where?’ I always thought [of the area from] the top of the top of the face-off dots – the hash marks – in to the net as a funnel. That’s all we used to do. [Wayne] Cashman, [Ken] Hodge and I, if you were in trouble, get it into the middle of the rink by the hash marks and I’ll be there. I didn’t look where I shot but I got it on the net.”
The secret to his success:
“Lots of shots. Even after the 550 that one year, the next year – I’ll never forget – I had 66. And there was a big headline in the paper: ‘Esposito Slumps.’ That year I think I had around 400 shots on goal. Let’s not forget that I played 35 or 38 minutes a game, every game. We played three lines. I saw Ovie was on for the whole power play; I played the whole power play. And then I killed penalties a little bit, too, which he will do down the line. Especially if you’re behind. You put him out there because you never know.”
“For me, scoring was all about hitting the net. I hated myself when I missed the net when I had an opportunity. I’d go out the next day at practice, if I missed two or three from a certain area, I’d go and get two or three pucks and I’d stand there and look up and I’d shoot to try to hit the goalpost in, goalpost in. I hated when I missed the net with an opportunity, because you don’t get that many opportunities.”