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Stanley Cup Final

Esposito tells the tale of his hospital kidnapping

Friday, 04.10.2009 / 10:00 PM / Off the Wall

By Evan Weiner - NHL.com Correspondent

Losing in the opening round of the playoffs is generally not a good reason to have a party, especially after that team has lost one of its best players because of a knee injury, but the Boston Bruins' end-of-the-playoffs party in 1973 was an affair that was off the charts.

Boston was knocked out by the New York Rangers in five games, but the season basically ended for the Bruins in the second game when NHL leading scorer Phil Esposito injured his knee. Esposito ended up at Massachusetts General Hospital where he underwent surgery for his career-threatening injury.

Esposito was one of the Bruins' team leaders and it appeared rather unlikely that he would be able to attend the final team party of the season. After all, he was in a hospital bed in traction, and no one gets out of Massachusetts General Hospital for a party while recuperating from a major procedure.

Even if that person is Phil Esposito, the Bruins' center who won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer in four of the past five years at that point and was a key contributor to Boston's 1970 and 1972 Stanley Cup championships. Mass General treated big stars, but the hospital never quite had a patient like Esposito.

Esposito was kidnapped from the hospital because he was needed at the team breakup party.

"It was Bobby Orr and Wayne Cashman and John Forrestal and Freddie O'Donnell was part of that, Kenny Hodge, Paddy Considine, Dallas Smith, they came to get me and it was a wild, wild thing," said Esposito. "I'll never forget, Bobby Orr came in around noon. It was the second day after my operation and Bobby saying to my wife, he says 'Donna, we are going to get the (nickname deleted) tonight and take him to the party.

"Donna says, 'Oh yeah' and she says, 'What do you mean? He can't go to the party. How is he going to go to the party?' I said, 'Donna, don't worry about it.' I thought it was a bunch of B.S. here, don't worry about it.

"Well about 7:30 that night, the door slams open in my room and Bobby comes in, he had a hospital gown on, a hat and a mask. And he says, 'OK, we are going.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' and he says, 'Come on. We are going.'

"They put this sheet on me. I had a hospital johnnie on and they whupped me right through to the elevator. Apparently they bribed the elevator (operator), apparently they had a private detective who went to the nurses station and showed his badge and said OK where is the guy who got shot and she said nobody got shot, well where is the guy, so she is frantically trying to find the guy that got shot and they put me right through (to the elevator) and got me down to the basement and put the sheet over my head and wheeled me through the basement.

And I remember, I could hear people say that's Bobby Orr and he kept saying 'emergency, emergency, let us by.' We got to the doors on Cambridge Street I believe and there was the electric doors and the door flips open and there was a bar in the middle and they couldn't get the bed through."

That should have ended Esposito's night out of Mass General, but his Bruins teammates and friends didn't let a metal bar deter them. Phil needed to be at the party.

"I will never forget this part," said Esposito of the scene. "I watched Dallas Smith and Paddy Considine and Kenny Hodge rip the bar out of the cement so that the doors could open and they could get me out. I remember going down the middle of the street, it was 7:30 at night , it was cold, it was April 6 and I remember it was cold because all I had on was the johnnie and a sheet and my leg in traction with a cast from my groin to my toes and this I remember vividly,  Bobby Orr said, 'OK, Espo. Put your hand out. We are making a left hand turn,' and like an idiot, I put my hand out and I said wait a minute, what am I doing here? And they get my to the stairs of the place, it was called The Branding Iron, it was a bar and restaurant, and got to the stairs and they broke the wheel on the bed.

"So now they got to carry the bed up the stairs and they carry it up the stairs and they bring me into the bar area and somebody got a brick, a couple of bricks, and they put it underneath the broken leg or broken wheel and Eddie Johnston, he brought this stinking provolone cheese and put it on my bed in between my legs and I have a beer in each hand and somebody yelled, 'OK, the party can begin now.'"

The party was hopping, but someone at Mass General went to check on Esposito and he wasn't there and that set off alarm bells at the hospital.

"Bobby called me the next day and says, 'Phil quite a party last night.' I said, 'Sure was. By the way, there is a $783 bill for the bed and the door. He said, 'We will take care of it ... did you pay it yet?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Thanks for the party, sucker."
-- Phil Esposito

"I stayed there for at least two hours and in the meanwhile, the hospital is going nuts," Esposito recalled. "The security is out looking for me and they are trying to find me and they don't know what happened. Finally they trace me and they got me at Branding Iron and they said they were going to send an ambulance to take an ambulance to take me back and Bobby says, 'No way. We took him here, we will take him home,' and they had to carry that bed back.

"The one thing we didn't do, Bobby would not allow any picture taking and we are sorry we didn't allow that because it was quite a sight. I remember the bed being broken, the door being broken and there was a bill the next day I got from Mass General for $783 and I paid it. And Bobby called me the next day and says, 'Phil quite a party last night.' I said, 'Sure was. By the way, there is a $783 bill for the bed and the door. He said, 'We will take care of it ... did you pay it yet?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Thanks for the party, sucker.' "

Mass General officials weren't very pleased with their patient and put him under house arrest during his recuperation.

"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 3½, four weeks and it was nuts," he said.

Just before Esposito checked out of the hospital, he was told that he might never play again by his doctor because of the severity of the injury. Esposito spent most of his summer rehabbing his knee in Cape Cod by letting the salt water hit his knee and walking the sand dunes, and that, Esposito believes, allowed him to recover. In his first preseason game after the injury, he had a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks. The goaltender he victimized was his brother, Tony Esposito.

Esposito led the NHL in scoring again in 1973-74. He never attended a team breakup party again quite like the one in Boston in 1973.

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the OT winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round