“Thunder and Lightning,” Phil Esposito’s as-told-to autobiography, is better than most books of this ilk for several reasons. Esposito is a more energetic story teller than most ex-athletes, he’s more candid than he had to be, and, because he is a former general manager (twice) as well as a former player, he has a wider range of experience than guys with only locker room tales to tell.
A lot of the stories in this book will confirm the stereotypes readers are likely to have of hockey players – especially hockey players of Esposito’s generation. They were unsophisticated and extraordinarily gullible, especially regarding financial matters. When Esposito and his mates agreed to play an intercontinental series against a Russian team in 1972, they signed on with no idea where the money generated by the entertainment would go, and they got screwed. But according to Esposito, most of them would have played for free anyway. As Esposito says, “They were Commies, and that’s all I needed to know.”
Over a nineteen year career with the Black Hawks, the Bruins, and the Rangers, Phil Esposito was an exceptionally successful player. He’s still among the top ten in the NHL in both goals and assists. But readers of “Thunder and Lightning” may wonder how he even made it to the arena most nights. In the book’s most harrowing account of an off-ice adventure, Esposito and his Bruin teammates are horsing around in a St. Louis hotel when one of the B’s, Shaky Walton, takes a drunken tumble through a plate-glass window and nearly bleeds to death. You don’t remember it?” Well, as Esposito recalls, “In those days the reporters were pretty good about things like that. Leo Monahan of the Herald and Tommy Fitzgerald of the Globe would cover for you.”
Phil Esposito’s current aim is to get back into the NHL as a co-owner and general manager. Though the league seems to be headed for a lockout that could shut down pro hockey for months or even years, the man who invented the Tampa Bay Lightning and then got fired for his efforts thinks he sees an opportunity. “It’s like real estate,” he told me. “Buy low, sell high. The N.H.L. is never going to get any lower.”