Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a Friday of this very date in 1942, Phil Esposito is 80 today: many happy returns of the day to him. Here he is in April of 1973, when he was 31 and a main motor of Boston’s mighty Bruins … only to be knocked out of the Bruins’ defence of their 1972 Stanley Cup championship in the second game of the an opening round playoff series that they would lose to the New York Rangers in five games.
Esposito, the Art Trophy-winner again that season, was felled by a hip check from Rangers’ defenceman Ron Harris. “I carried the puck across the blueline,” Esposito narrated the next day for reporters as he lay in Room 509 of Phillips House at the Massachusetts General Hospital, “and then I saw Harris coming at me. I tried to cut, but I had nowhere to go. I was brushed by somebody or stumbled and lost my footing. My right foot swung around and that’s when Harris hit me. I knew Harris would come in low and I tried to duck, but I couldn’t. It was a clean check. I’m sure there’s no way that Ronnie tried to injure me.”
Dr. Carter Rowe performed the surgery that Esposito was still awaiting when these photos were taken. It was Esposito’s right knee that Dr. Rowe repaired, a tear of the medial lateral ligament. (Three times he’d already performed similar operations on Bobby Orr, by then.)
The fact that Esposito was laid up in a cast for eight weeks didn’t mean that he missed out on the Bruins’ last supper. In mid-April, after having been eliminated by the Rangers, the team gathered to say their farewells at a Boston steakhouse, the Branding Iron, not far from where Esposito lay abed at Mass General. A Bruins’ raiding party that included Orr, Wayne Cashman, and Dallas Smith soon had Esposito busted out of recovery, across the plaza, into the restaurant — in the very hospital bed pictured here. They got him back again, his teammates, after a couple of hours of revelry.
As Esposito told Evan Weiner in 2009, his recuperation was strictly policed after that. “In that hospital that year, I was the only guy they told me ever in the history of Mass General — and they had Katherine Hepburn in there, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor — that was ever locked in his room. They locked me in my room, I was in there three-and-a-half, four weeks, and it was nuts.”
Come the fall, Esposito was back on the ice to launch what turned into yet another Art Ross-worthy campaign, his fourth in a row. He finished the 1973-74 season with even better numbers than the previous year, netting 68 goals and 145 points to top the scoring table ahead of teammates Orr, Ken Hodge, and Cashman.