Esche worries about younger brother
April 1, 2003
While many of us turn to professional sports as a diversion to the
grim reality of war, Philadelphia Flyers backup goaltender Robert
Esche finds it difficult to think about anything other than the troops
in the Persian Gulf.
Esche, a 25-year-old native of Whitesboro, New York, has a younger
brother who could be among the ground troops in Iraq.
Henry Esche is a 22-year-old sergeant in the Marine Corps. The last
time Robert talked to his brother, Henry was in Okinawa, Japan,
awaiting orders to invade Iraq. Since then, Robert Esche has received
no word on his brother's whereabouts.
When he has not been spelling Flyers starter Roman Cechmanek in goal,
Esche has been glued to the television, watching and wondering. He
said not knowing the whereabouts of Henry has been unnerving for his
mother, father and two siblings, Lisa, 30, and Danny, 14, as well as
"You see people moving through the desert and Ted Koppel in the
background saying four Marines are dead," Esche said. "And I don't
know what division my brother's in. It's weird."
Esche said that if Henry is in Iraq, he would have arrived within days
of the first attacks. He said that's exactly where Henry wants to be.
"The last e-mail he sent me, he was upset his buddies were on their
way to Iraq," Esche said. "You know, these guys crave this. This is
what they work for. They want to be able to provide [protection] for us."
For his family's sake, Esche said he is praying for his brother's safe
return. Five years ago, the family was shaken by the death of Esche's
older brother, Eliot, who took his own life at the age of 22 after
suffering from clinical depression. Less than a year later, Henry, a
clean-cut 18-year-old who never swore and attended church every
Sunday, stunned the family by saying he wanted to join the Marines.
"For a month or two, we just ignored him," Esche said. "But all of a
sudden he was begging my mother to sign the papers."
This is not the first potentially dangerous tour of duty for Henry
Esche. Immediately following the September 11 attacks on New York and
Washington, he was stationed in Afghanistan, where he helped set up
military bases for U.S. troops. Since then, he has been stationed in
Germany, the Philippines, and Okinawa, and could now be in Iraq.
"I know his mom's really scared right now," Flyers defenseman Eric
Weinrich said of his teammate. "He's already lost one sibling. He made
the comment to me that a brother or a cousin wouldn't have the same
feeling as a mother with a son going into war. They don't even know
what he's doing; there are so many unknowns. I'm sure he's watching TV
every day. I feel for him and pray for him."
Esche said whether his brother engages in combat or not, he considers
Henry an American hero.
"On September 11, we found out who the heroes are," Esche said. "We
saw the police, the firefighters, the nurses, the search-and-rescue
teams, the construction workers. Those were our heroes. Now, we're
seeing another group of heroes.
"It's an honor to have my brother as a hero."
Rangers, Islanders battle to the wire
Is there anything greater than watching the Rangers and Islanders slug
it out for the final playoff berth in the East?
Written off as the most expensive flop in NHL history just two weeks
ago, the Rangers mounted a furious comeback by winning four of five
games. Meanwhile, the Islanders went 2-4-1 and are now trying to avoid
one of the biggest collapses in NHL history.
Fittingly, the two teams are scheduled to meet Tuesday night at Nassau
Coliseum with the eighth and final playoff spot on the line.
The Islanders were still stinging from Sunday's embarrassing 6-0 loss
to the Devils.
"We have to see signs when we leave this locker room that no one has
accepted this game," Islanders captain Michael Peca said after the
loss. "I think too often we've had tough games and haven't shown up,
and it's gotten too easy to accept it and move forward to the next one."
Peca entered this week without a goal in his last 17 games.
The Rangers' Alexei Kovalev was in a similar slump before breaking out
with two goals in a 3-1 win against Boston. Acquired February 10 from
the Penguins, Kovalev had not scored in nine games, an eternity for a
player as talented as him.
"It would have been better to have had that slump at the beginning of
the season," Kovalev said. "You just keep playing through it."
Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Rangers are as
healthy as they've been all season. Goalie Mike Dunham is back after
missing one game with a pulled hamstring and ready for the ride of his
"There's no room for error," he said. "We feel good [now]. It's a
Momentum might be on the Rangers' side, but time isn't. After their
big date with the Isles, the Blueshirts end the season at home against
the Devils and on the road in Montreal. The Isles finish up with three
games -- at the Red Wings, at home against Atlanta, and at the
Marty the magnificent
The best goaltender never to win the Vezina Trophy achieved yet
another milestone during the weekend when the Devils' Martin Brodeur
became the NHL's first netminder to record four 40-win seasons.
Only two other goalies have had three 40-win seasons, and both are in
the Hockey Hall of Fame: Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk.
"I wanted to be able to play a lot and be consistent every year,"
Brodeur said. "Winning so many games every year shows I was able to do
that. I want to keep going and raise that bar for other goalies coming
Brodeur's 6-0 win over the Islanders on Sunday was his League-high
ninth shutout of the season and 64th of his career.
"Sometimes we kind of expect it, because he's so laid back about it
all," Devils forward Scott Gomez said of Brodeur. "But he's special.
One of these days I'll be able to tell my grandkids that I played with
Marty Brodeur, and it will be a wonderful thing to look back on."
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello took some heat for not nabbing a goal scorer
at the NHL trading deadline, but after a 4-2 loss to the Flyers on
March 17, the Devils went 5-0-2 to give themselves breathing room on
the Flyers and put some heat on the conference-leading Senators.
One reason for the Devils' surge is Patrik Elias, who netted 10 goals
in 13 games entering this week.
Trouble in Toronto?
In mid-March, the Maple Leafs looked loaded and ready for a
first-round clash with the Flyers. Lately, however, the Air Canada
Centre has looked like an infirmary. Newly acquired forward Doug
Gilmour (knee) and defensemen Phil Housley (broken foot) and Glen
Wesley (broken ankle) are out indefinitely, while forwards Gary
Roberts (groin), Mikael Renberg (hamstring), Travis Green (ribs), and
Shayne Corson (colitis) were day-to-day. Even Owen Nolan had to pull
himself from a recent game with back pain.
On top of that, the Leafs had surrendered a lead in 10 of their last
13 games and had coughed up two-goal leads in five games since March 8.
"That's not the type of hockey you like to see going into the
playoffs," head coach Pat Quinn said, "because there you make one soft
play or one mistake, and it could cost you a hockey game."
Around the Eastern Conference
Bruins center Joe Thornton has the odds stacked against him in his
quest to catch Vancouver's Markus Naslund for the NHL scoring title.
While Naslund's final week has the Canucks facing the free-wheeling
Ducks, Coyotes, and Kings in their final three games, Thornton's
Bruins are up against the stingy Senators, Devils, and Sabres... The
Sabres are breathing a sigh of relief this week now that defensemen
Rhett Warrener and Brian Campbell are showing no signs of severe acute
respiratory syndrome (SARS). Warrener and Campbell did not travel with
the team for a game at Carolina on Saturday because they were exposed
to the potentially fatal disease when a female relative of Campbell,
who was later hospitalized with SARS symptoms, visited the hotel room
he shared with Warrener. "We're fine," Warrener said. "I think it's
pretty slight exposure, so I'm not too worried." Warrener and Campbell
were questionable for the Sabres' final three games.
Chuck Gormley covers the Philadelphia Flyers for the South Jersey