Another day, another goaltender. Robert Esche backstopped one of the best Flyers teams in recent memory. The 2003-04 Flyers appeared to be the team to end the Stanley Cup-drought, but lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Esche was never “the guy” in Philadelphia. He probably never wanted to be.
The 2003-04 season gave the Flyers quite an obstacle midway through the season. Jeff Hackett was diagnosed with vertigo in January and never returned. Sean Burke was acquired via trade and looked to be the leading man in net until head coach Ken Hitchcock made a bold move.
Hitchcock, to the surprise of everyone, anointed backup Robert Esche as the starter for the playoffs. Esche had just set career-highs in wins (21), save percentage (.915) and goals against average (2.04). The brawl against the Senators may or may not have helped as well.
“Silent Bob,” as the reporters called him, continued his strong play into the spring posting a .918 save percentage and a 2.32 goals against average
After the cancelled season, Esche could never recapture his game. He regressed back to average numbers and never got himself back into full playing shape. Antero Niittymaki, fresh off a Calder Cup with the Phantoms, was closing the gap between himself and Esche.
Esche played out the final two years of his contract and moved on from the Flyers. Teams were uninterested in making him a starter, so he jumped over to Russia and travelled all over Europe playing hockey.
Aside from the game, Esche has made a good living as a farmer and businessman. During his time in Russia, he studied farming and opened his own restaurant in Utica, N.Y. called Esche’s Aqua Vino.
When Esche is not playing hockey or running his restaurant, he lives on his 80-acre farm in Utica.
Esche visited the Flyers a few years ago. He and the organization are on good terms. Esche has no ill-will toward the team and said he enjoyed his time as a Flyer.