Even though you might be a Hall of fame superstar, every NHL player has been a rookie, nervous about taking the ice in the NHL for the first time.
It’s probably one of those moments you’ll never ever forget, no matter if you play 10, 100 or 1000 games in the worlds best hockey league.
That goes for Phil Esposito as well. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985, Esposito skated in 1282 NHL games putting up 1590 points with 717 goals and 873 assists.
During the 1963-64 season, it was finally time for him to enter the league. Esposito made his NHL debut against Montreal but only had one short shift.
Two games later, with Esposito not getting on the ice at all in his second game, the Chicago Black Hawks played the Red Wings in Detroit. Esposito finally got a chance to play, and the first shift was going to be special. On the other side, he faced Gordie Howe.
“I go out there and I’m like, ‘Holy **; Gordie Howe, Hall of Famer. Alex Delvecchio. Teddy Lindsay. Billy Gadsby. Terry Sawchuk, Pierre Pilote and Bobby Hull.’ All these Hall of Famers. I’m going, ‘Oh my God.’ Then Bobby says to me, ‘Phil! You got that old son of a **?’ and he’s nodding at Howe. I said, ‘I got him,’ and Gordie just smiled at me, Esposito tells NHL.com.
However, when the puck dropped, Esposito, 21 years of age, wasn’t able to keep an eye on Howe. The Hall of fame forward got him first with an elbow under Esposito’s nose, cutting him for six stitches. The shift lasted for six seconds.
Esposito swung his stick against Howe, who was 14 years older, with the duo getting two minutes each.
Once in the penalty box, they started screaming at each other. Esposito wasn’t a fan anymore. Instead, he was screaming at his biggest childhood idol.
“We went into the penalty box, with only an usher between us. I went in first. I had a towel with ice in it, trying to stop the bleeding,” Esposito recalled. “I lean around the usher and I say to Gordie, and you can write this the way you want, ‘And you used to be my *** idol!’ He says, ‘What did you say, ***?’ And I replied, ‘Uh, nothing, Mr. Howe. Absolutely nothing,”
A couple of years later, Esposito and Gordie Howe met once again, but this time during the All-Star Game.
He finally got an answer of why Howe swung the elbow at him.
“He said to me, ‘That’s the first time in my life somebody said to me that I was his idol. I was flabbergasted.’ I said, ‘So why did you elbow me in the head?’ He said, ‘Phil, I tested every rookie. If you didn’t respond, I owned you. For as long as you played, or I played. And you responded.’ And you know what? He never bothered me again, and I never bothered him,” Esposito told NHL.com.
Make sure to follow The Hockey Beast on Instagram!