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Duff: Remembering Rod Gilbert, Andy Warhol And A Day Spent In A Dungeon

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Andy Warhol painting of Rod Gilbert

The recents death of New York Rangers legend Rod Gilbert and Chicago Blackhawks goaltender extraordinaire Tony Esposito brought plenty of memories flooding back.

In this line of work, some days are better than others. In 1994 I was assigned to pen a piece on Windsor Spitfires forward and future NHLer Dave Roche, who was about to play against his younger brother Scott, then the goalie for the North Bay Centennials.

Arriving at Windsor Arena, I headed to the scouts/media room to grab a pregame coffee, when who should be the first person I’d see in the room? Why, it was Tony Esposito, then the director of hockey operations for the Tampa Bay Lightning. As Phil’s little brother, he was also a world-renowned expert on facing his older brother while between the posts.

In the business, this is known as the column writing itself.

Years later in 2008, while working with the Hockey News on a book about goalie masks, among my assignments was to pen the tale of Tony’s unique face protector. That year I was also assigned to cover the Beijing Summer Olympics. Early one morning while in the media village, my cellphone. It was Tony, returning my call. We’d eventually talk about his mask – after he spent 15-20 minutes wanting to know everything about my experience in China.

Our final meeting came at Wrigley Field. I’d promised to get Tony the book. I could’ve mailed it, but I knew he’d be at the Blackhawks-Red Wings Winter Classic Game. I figured I’d deliver it in person. Coming up the steps inside Wrigley, out of the thousands of people in attendance, who should be coming down the stairs but Tony O.

Another chance meeting, another result.

Visiting The Dungeon

Sadly, I never had the pleasure of meeting Gilbert in person. But it was a chance encounter of a different kind involving him that left me gobsmacked.

This job also comes with plenty of perks. One day, while researching for another book at the Hockey Hall of Fame’s research centre, I was invited to take a tour of the dungeon. That’s what the Hall of Fame folks call the climate-controled room where artifacts not currently on display are safely stored.

Upon entering the room, the first thing that caught my eye was a striking, unique portrait of Gilbert. Closer examination of the painting revealed the artist’s name. It was an Andy Warhol.

That same day, I also saw a 1930-31 Philadelphia Quakers sweater worn by Bill Hutton. The Hall had just received this prized possession. Still, even for someone more familiar with Van Impe than van Gogh, being face to face with an original Andy Warhol was something not easily forgotten.

Some DHN links to read, too:

Pittsburgh: Comparing the work of current Penguins GM Ron Hextall to his predecessor Jim Rutherford.

Florida: Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour isn’t the first person to find appeal in taking up permanent residence in Florida.

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