Canadian Summit Series hero Phil Esposito is beloved in Russia, and he loves them back
Phil Esposito is a legend. He played 1262 NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, registering 1590 points over his 19-year career. But for many, he's better remembered for 8 games that didn't even count towards those totals.
Esposito was the star of the 1972 Summit Series. Sure, Paul Henderson scored the goal everyone remembers, but Esposito was Canada's leader, as well as the series leader in scoring with 7 goals and 6 assists.
His performance was unforgettable, and not just to Canadians. Russians love him too.
Esposito is in the former Soviet Union as part of the Summit Series's 40th anniversary celebrations, and he's practically a traffic-stopping celebrity over there. From the Toronto Sun:
"One time, my wife (Bridget) looked at me and said, 'I didn't know I was travelling with Brad Pitt,' " Esposito said with a laugh.
"Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed by the admiration, the adoration, whatever word it is. It's overwhelming. I'm 70 years old and, man, it's wonderful to still be recognized and known.
"I think I'm more famous over here (in Russia) than I am there (in Canada and the United States). Does that make any sense?"
It's enough to make a man decide to move to Russia permanently.
But seriously, Esposito might, and not just because he gets seated at restaurants quicker. Not even because his daughter Carrie was married to Russian hockey player Alexander Selivanov. No, it's much worse than that: the former NHLer might stay to take a permanent job offer with the KHL, perhaps as league president Alexander Medvedev's right-hand man.
Esposito, From RIA Novosti:
"I'm very interested in the KHL. ... I might be able to do something. [KHL president] Alex Medvedev and I have been talking and I'm very excited about it."
Asked if he would take a job as a consultant or assistant to Medvedev, Esposito responded: "Yes, yes. I like him. He's passionate about hockey. Passionate."
Can you imagine that? Phil Esposito, The Canadian Cold War hero, helping to grow the biggest threat to hockey in North America? Is this some sort of upside-down parallel universe?
Actually, compared to 1972, maybe. Esposito has been very complimentary of KHL hockey, even going so far as to say that they play it like we used to.
"Really and truly, if you think about it, we're playing hockey like they did in the '70s (now) in Canada, and they're playing hockey like we did in the '70s here in Russia," Esposito told the Toronto Sun.
It's amazing to think this is the same man that vehemently and famously defended his patriotism in 1972, chewing out the Vancouver crowd and balking at suggestions that he was a Communist.
It's amazing because so much has changed beyond the way hockey is played here. The world has changed, too.
In 1972, Phil Esposito put on the maple leaf to prove how much he loved Canada, and when Canada didn't win, some assumed it was because he secretly loved Russia.
In 2012, Esposito doesn't even have to keep it a secret.