Hockey's Historic Highlights

Esposito vs Esposito - Smith vs Smith

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand

Esposito vs Esposito - Smith vs Smith

Posted November 30, 2013

Viewed 2763 times

According to the Toronto Sun: "He may have won over his teammates with a win in his first start as a Maple Leaf, but it could take some time for Jonathan Bernie to become a familiar face in the Eastern Conference. The former L.A. King was named third star by Flyer's selectors after a 3-1 victory in which he was the best player on the ice. But he was announced STEVE Bernier (the erstwhile journeyman with the Devils)."

Duplicate surnames in a 30-team loop like the NHL, where as many as 750 players dot their rosters, is as common as coffee and donuts. It does seem a bit of a stretch to confuse a winger and a goaltender, however, since their functions in the game are so totally different.

Doug Wilson taking a shot on Dunc Wilson; Murray Hall letting one fly at Glenn Hall's net; or Rod Gilbert wiring a drive at Gilles Gilbert, has prompted many a spectator's hearts to beat a little faster countless times during the 96-year history of the world's premier shinny fraternity.

In the March 2011 issue of the SIHR Newletter/Bulletin, the "Believe It Or Not" column focused on this scenario. On November 24, 2008, in a game between Washington and Minnesota, the Caps' Nicklas Backstrom scored a power play marker against the Wild's Niklas Backstrom.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Michael Russo asked the local squad's radio announcer if it had been confusing trying to do the play-by-play, and how he would have handled it if there had been a shoot-out to decide the match. But the clincher was an unthinking Alex Ovechkin asking his teammate if the two were brothers. (Both named Niklas?)

"No! he's a Finn, and I'm a Swede", came the reply

As suggested above, there have been numerous instances of forwards or defensemen attempting to score on netminders who bear the identical family moniker. But far more definitive is the drama of a brother taking pot shots at his sibling.

As near as can be determined the first instance of a brother facing the prospect of turning away attempts to score by his frêre took place on March 29, 1929. The Bruins and Rangers were in a best-of-3 final for Lord Stanley's coveted mug, which pitted New York's Paul Thompson against Boston's "Tiny".

One of only four such combinations to be selected to first team all star squads (the Conachers, Espositos, and the Sedins being the others), the potential for them to face one another in competition existed for 11 NHL campaigns.

In that initial on-ice meeting, the elder Thompson failed to get his moniker on the score sheet, although it was noted that in the second of the two-contest Beantown sweep, he had a good chance to beat "Tiny" - but the latter stopped him cold.

Sports page reports which appeared from the time of that above-mentioned confrontation, until Paul hung up his blades after the 1938-39 season, reads like a continuing saga of a personal grudge match.

March 19, 1930: "Paul put on several dazzling displays, and on one occasion managed to squeeze between Shore and Hitchman, and feinted "Tiny" out of his cage."

March 20, 1932: "Paul Thompson shot the only goal through brother "Tiny" as the Hawks nipped the Bruins, 1-0."

November 23, 1932: "Paul Thompson was the only one to get a shot past his brother "Tiny" in a 6-1 loss to Boston"

February 1, 1933: "Paul Thompson had to work hard for his unassisted goal, as he zig-zagged the length of the ice, through every defender before slamming a close-quarter shot into his brother "Tiny's cage!"

December 21, 1937: "Every time "Tiny" Thompson gets ready for a shutout, someone slips in a late goal. This time it was his brother Paul, who, with 9 seconds left scored, and "Tiny" 's Bruins had to be content with a 2-1 victory."

March 4, 1938: "Last night the loyal Bruin's fans saw Paul Thompson stun his famous goalie "Tiny" with the speediest goal of the year - 16 seconds!"

Both Gordie and Joe Bell had brief stays in the Big Time, but it was while they plied their trade in the AHL that the shooter/stopper scenario took place with these family members. Down in the bottom corner on page 8 of the November 25 issue of the Hockey News, appeared a headline titled "Brotherly Love": "Joe Bell of the Buffalo Bisons relishes scoring against brother Gordie of the Washington Lions. On November 2 he twice placed the rubber behind Gordie as Buffalo defeated Washington 7-3"

Brian and Gary Smith were both snatched up by California-based expansion clubs in 1967 - the former donning the royal colours of the L.A. Kings, and the latter joining the Seals. Brian was mistakenly referred to as the "first player in the NHL to score against a brother" (the Thompsons being forgotten). But on December 19, 1967, he notched a pair against his flakey frêre. Strangely enough, the second tally was not counted against Gary, since he had been pulled for an extra attacker; so it was an empty-netter. Two seasons earlier, the same scenario took place, but on that occasion they were playing for Rochester and Springfield respectively. THAT tally spoiled the lanky backstop's shutout.

Without a doubt the most publicized competition of this kind involves the brothers Esposito. Like the Thompsons they had 11 campaigns in which to have opportunity to go head-to-head—one with the distinct purpose of putting the old boot heel into the netting - the other with keeping it out. That time frame spanned from 1968 when Tony entered the fray, and concluded with Phil's retirement in 1981.

On December 5, 1968 the goaltending half of this Sault-St-Marie-born duo strapped on the pads for the first time in the NHL - with the Montreal Canadiens no less. The press was Johnny-on-the-spot, summarizing the scene with: "Young Tony Esposito made his NHL debut as goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night; but his older brother Phil wasn't a very cordial host!"

The southpaw netminder had a perfect night against the rest of the Bruins, but his older kin slammed in a couple, as the match ended in a draw. Both were out to win, and Phil had no qualms about scoring against his brother. Now, Mama Esposito was not so kindly disposed. She was angry at the pivot son for spoiling Tony's start in the Big Time.

Things did not get better as the seasons came and went; although there was some consolation in April 1970 for the younger sibling. Phil had pulled off a hat trick in that post season meeting of the Hawks and Beantowners. In fact there is a widely-distributed photo of the big forward raising his hands in triumph, while Tony is sprawled in his crease, knowing there is no doubt as to wear the puck is. But, the latter had the last laugh as Chicago ousted Boston from further Stanley Cup play.

Much of their competition involved "mind games". Tony would not speak to Phil on the ice during games. He would ignore any attempt at conversation. One tongue-in-cheek remark made in response to that stance was: "I let my stick do the talking — and he doesn't like what he hears!"

People often asked the cage cop member of the shinny duo why he doesn't ease up on Phil. "That's ridiculous! I probably try harder against Phil that anybody! And I know he always gives it his best shot against me. I'd like to see him lead the league in scoring every year; but not at my expense. If I can stop him I will!"

It was said of the one who holds 10th spot in the league's all time scoring race: "He would score against his own GRANDMOTHER if she were playing goal!"

In February 1972 Phil kept this good-natured bantering going, by recalling that Tony had recently stopped him on two breakaways. "But.", he chuckled: "If he starts in about it, I have ammunition. On my 30th birthday I got my 50th and 51st goals against him."

But the big sniper didn't always have it his way. During the 1974 playoffs, it was noted that Phil failed again and again to penetrate his younger sibling's armour. "He stopped me three times on three consecutive breakaways - all perfect chances to score!"

By November 1978 Phil was a member of the New York Rangers, but Tony remained a stalwart between the pipes for the Windy City sextet. On the 16th of that month one of the few times statistics relating to their on-ice confrontations was revealed. The Broadway Blueshirts whipped the Hawks, 8-1, and Phil tallied his 22nd marker against his kin, during their 36th team competing against each other.

The final Esposito family encounter took place in November 5, 1980, with Phil coming out on top in the competition.

The netminding half of THIS rivalry came up smelling of roses on November 5, 1975. It as one of the unusual occasions when members National Hockey League's Writers Association paid any attention to this rare kind of encounter. That night Norm Gratton, a veteran of more than 100 NHL contests, met his widely-publicized loony kin, Gilles, who was making his league debut as a member of the St. Louis Blues. The latter turned back 28 shots, including four by the less-known member of the LaSalle, Quebec clan.

Twenty three years passed before a sporting clash of this kind was repeated. The Association Press reported: "Mathieu Biron finally got the better of his big brother. The Florida defenseman became the first player to score against his brother (another gross error in journalism) beating Martin in the Panther's 2-1 win over Buffalo. It was his first of the year and the sixth of his NHL career."

The article went on to mention that the player's parents, Rejean and Celine, were in attendance. They shared with the press that during the summer the par had been nagging each other about whether Mathieu would score or not. They were happy that it was "a good goal, not a cheap one." The triumph victor, all in good humour, revealed that he had told his sibling: "If I ever score, I'll laugh in your face!"

One sharpie scribe recalled another incident two seasons later. Although normally one stop would hardly warrant headlines, because of the kinship of those involved, he focused on a huge save by Martin - while his frêre was then a member of the Capitals.

December 5, 2006 was a milestone for the Lundqvist twins. This WAS the initial NHL meeting for players who have identical birthdays. Forward Joel was called up to the parent Dallas Stars by Iowa earlier in the week, although he had already taken part in four matches previously. The starry backstop twin, Henrik, admitted that it was very special to compete against his kin. However, even though his eyes and mind were focused on the puck. He "noticed every time Joel was on the ice, and was nervous every time he was out there." The Ranger's backstop "stood on his head", stopping 43 shots, but none of them came from his womb mate, who played only six minutes that night.

The most recent reference to ice being thicker than blood in competition was an October 2, 2013 comment about "(Detroit's) Drew Miller having played against (Buffalo's) Ryan five times. The only point the younger sibling has been able to match against his brother was an assist - which happened to be on a goal by Darren Helm- one of five of fourteen shots - which prompted the skilled netminder to be pulled early in the second frame. Ryan, not surprisingly, echoed the identical sentiment of Tony O: "I like to see him (Drew) score - but against somebody else!"

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