Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Phil Esposito remembers Gordie 'Elbows' Howe

Phil Esposito said Gordie Howe was his boyhood hero.

"He was the end-all, be-all," Esposito said. "He was the guy."

And Esposito, 74, the Lightning founder and Hall of Fame forward, has a permanent reminder of Howe, a scar above his lip.

You see, Esposito said Howe's moniker of "Mr. Hockey" was well-deserved, but so was his nickname of "Elbows." Esposito found that out the hard way the first time he faced Howe, one of the game's greatest players, who died Friday at 88.

It was in Esposito's second NHL game, with the Blackhawks against the Red Wings in 1963 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. In Esposito's first shift, he lined up against Howe on a faceoff. Teammate Bobby Hull told Esposito, "Watch that old (expletive)." Howe blinked once or twice, flashed a little grin. The puck dropped, and Howe shocked Esposito with an elbow to the mouth.

"I turned around, swung my stick at him," Esposito said. "I'm on the ice six seconds and I've got six stitches and I'm in the penalty box.

"I came back at him, I'd say to him, 'You old (expletive), you used to be my idol.' Later on, he told me that's the first time anyone had said, 'You used to be my idol.' He said, 'I respected you for that.' "

Esposito said Howe, at 6 feet and 205 pounds, had a mean streak on the ice but was nice off it. Esposito said one of his favorite memories was when he and fellow Hall of Famers were honorary captains at the 1986 All-Star Game in Hartford after both had retired. They played one last shift together.

"Howe was a special, special, special player," Esposito said. "People ask me all the time, 'Who was the greatest player?' I think Bobby Orr was the greatest defenseman I ever saw. (Wayne) Gretzky is the greatest forward I ever saw. But all-around, it was Gordie. He could play defense, he could play wing, he could play center. It didn't matter. This guy would win every faceoff, could kill penalties, on the power play. He was unbelievable."

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Comments
Lightning has goalie Peter Budaj’s back after near-collapse

Lightning has goalie Peter Budaj’s back after near-collapse

LAS VEGAS — After the Avalanche made a seemingly insurmountable Lightning lead shaky Saturday night, defenseman Victor Hedman was the first to skate toward backup goalie Peter Budaj and give an encouraging pat on the pads with his stick.Budaj’s stat ...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Lightning-Avalanche

Could tell just how much Ryan Callahan meant in the Lightning dressing room by hearing teammates talk about his latest injury. Steven Stamkos said he was "sick to my stomach." Brayden Point called him a "heart and soul player." Teammates all saw how ...
Published: 12/16/17
Lightning journal: No easy answers on replacing injured Ryan Callahan

Lightning journal: No easy answers on replacing injured Ryan Callahan

The good news for the Lightning is that GM Steve Yzerman is hopeful RW Ryan Callahan will be ready to go in 3-4 weeks when his upper body injury is re-evaluated. The hard part, however, is finding someone to replace the veteran wing. "I don’t know if...
Published: 12/16/17
Lightning trying to replace ‘heart and soul’ Ryan Callahan

Lightning trying to replace ‘heart and soul’ Ryan Callahan

With veteran wing Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks with an upper body injury, the natural question is who will fill his shoes?"I don't know if anyone can," coach Jon Cooper said.That's not to say the Lightning (26-6-2) can't win without Callahan....
Published: 12/16/17
Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

DENVER — There might be one team in hockey hotter than the Lightning.It is Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, Syracuse.The Crunch has won 10 straight after Friday’s victory over Providence. Why is this important? While the AHL is a developmental league, the ...
Published: 12/16/17
Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

When Lightning wing Ryan Callahan took a nasty spill into the boards Thursday night, it didn't look good.Turns out, it wasn't. Callahan will be sidelined indefinitely with an upper body injury, evaluated after three to four weeks, per GM Steve Yzerma...
Published: 12/15/17
When you think you’ve got Brayden Point figured out, a surprise awaits

When you think you’ve got Brayden Point figured out, a surprise awaits

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Center Brayden Point is the Lightning’s calmest player, both on the ice and off, according to Victor Hedman.Point’s soft-spoken nature belies his baby face and 5-foot-10 frame. "I’ve never seen him angry before," Hedman said.That ma...
Published: 12/15/17
Ryan Callahan injury makes Lightning win ‘bittersweet’

Ryan Callahan injury makes Lightning win ‘bittersweet’

The Lightning's 4-1 victory over the Coyotes Thursday night still featured the usual post-game music in the dressing room.But there was more of a somber tone with veteran right wing Ryan Callahan's right arm in a sling. Callahan, who got hurt on a na...
Published: 12/15/17
Lightning routs Coyotes for sixth straight win

Lightning routs Coyotes for sixth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. — As much as the Lightning has been rolling, it remembered how it lost twice last season to the Coyotes.That included blowing a one-goal third-period lead at home down the stretch, with Tampa Bay missing the playoffs by a point."You l...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev earns more minutes, praise

Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev earns more minutes, praise

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes center Clayton Keller is very familiar with fellow rookie Mikhail Sergachev, the dynamic Lightning defenseman. They both were top 10 picks in 2016, Keller at No. 7 and Sergachev No. 9 to Montreal. They faced each other in th...
Published: 12/14/17