EDMONTON — There aren't many people that can get Phil Esposito to sing.
The late Alan Thicke did.
Esposito, the Hall of Fame player and Lightning founder, had been friends with Thicke since the early 1970s, the two growing up about 40 minutes apart in Ontario. When Thicke wrote a song called Hockey Sock Rock in 1979, with proceeds going to juvenile diabetes research, he talked Esposito, then with the Rangers, into participating with five teammates. Esposito had lead vocals, and the song raised $750,000. For the video, check out tampabay.com/blogs/lightning.
"I didn't want to do it," Esposito said Friday, laughing. "(Thicke) said, 'Phil, you can do this. I have faith in you.' I said, 'Okay, I'll give it a shot.' Actually it was absolutely beautiful. I couldn't believe it. He made me sound like I knew what I was doing."
Thicke could do anything. That's what Esposito will remember most about the famous actor and producer who died Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 69.
"I'll tell you, man, I miss that guy," Esposito said.
When the Lightning had its first game, Oct. 7, 1992, Esposito said his brother Tony wanted singer Bryan Adams to be the master of ceremonies for that special night. Esposito picked Thicke.
"He was a huge hockey guy," Esposito said of Thicke. "He was always giving to hockey. He became very good friends with Wayne (Gretzky). He played in a lot of celebrity games I played in."
Esposito said he talked to Thicke on the phone often and had planned to have dinner with him during All-Star Game weekend in January in Los Angeles. Esposito recalled that when he was in California recording Hockey Sock Rock, he went to Thicke's house. Thicke's son Robin — now a well-known singer, then 2 or 3 years old — was bouncing on Esposito's lap.
"We were recording the Hockey Sock Rock, I'll never forget this," Esposito said. "We went to a recording studio, so it sounded better. There was Alan; his (then)-wife Gloria (Loring, an actor and singer), a couple of others. We drank brandy. The more brandy I drank, the better I sounded. … No wonder I sounded so good."
AIR TIME: D Victor Hedman's pregame ritual with assistant equipment manager Rob Kennedy went viral last week when the NHL put an up-close look on Twitter. The clip aired on Canada's TSN and on ESPN on Dan Le Batard's show. Kennedy was even interviewed by TSN after Friday's morning skate.
Before every game for the past four years, Hedman will quickly dip the blade of his stick between each of Kennedy's fingers on the bench. Back and forth. Then they'll finish with a shoulder bump. Hedman said he has no idea how the routine started and admits to hitting Kennedy's fingers a few times.
"I probably do it every time," Hedman quipped. "I'm pretty good at it right now. We've been practicing it for a long time."
Hedman recalled one time he hit Kennedy in the nose with his stick — hard. "We won that game, though," Hedman said "So maybe it's lucky."
SLAP SHOTS: It was impressive that five Lightning prospects made Canada's roster for the World Junior Championship, which begins Dec. 26: forwards Mitchell Stephens, Taylor Raddysh, Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph, and goalie Connor Ingram. NBC broadcaster Pierre McGuire suggested that with all the "A-level prospects" in the system, GM Steve Yzerman could use some as trade chips at the March deadline. A top-four defenseman is the Lightning's biggest need. "Steve knows they've got some ammunition," McGuire said.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.