While it's one thing to buzz about the Stanley Cup final goalies, we go to one where never had a sniff at the Cup of Lord Stanley. Much to that, not even out of the first round for this week's AGM. In fact, if not for an epic collapse of the team he coaches now; he may have gotten a shot at a ring, even if it was from the bench. This week, we look at the career of Bob Essensa.
Essensa started off playing Midget AAA and Junior B with the Harry Carr Crusaders in the 1981-82 and 1982-83 season respectively. After an impressive season in 1983, Essensa got selected in the fourth round by the Winnipeg Jets. Essensa wasn't going to jump into the pro games just yet, as he opted to play at Michigan State in the NCAA.
Essensa's freshman year, he sat behind Norm Foster while only getting 17 games in. Yet, with those games, Essensa made the most of his starts, going 11-4-0 with two shutouts and a 2.79 GAA. Sophomore year in 1984-85, Essensa would be behind Foster yet again, but this time with 18 games in and 15-2-0 with another two shutouts and a 1.64 GAA, which was enough for Essensa to get on the CCHA First All-Star Team. Essensa would split the starting gig with Foster in the 1985-86 season. Essensa got 23 games in, while going 17-4-1 with a shutout, and a higher 3.33 GAA. And while he didn't get to play in the playoffs, Essensa was part of the 1986 NCAA Championship team with Michigan State beating Harvard 6-5. In the 1986-87 season, both Essensa and Foster were back for their senior years and dominated again. Essensa got 25 games in with a 19-3-1 record and 2.78 GAA. Michigan State won the CCHA tournament, but lost in the NCAA Championship game to Ed Belfour's North Dakota Fighting Sioux.
Essensa's move to the pro game started with the Moncton Hawks in the AHL in the 1987-88 season. The Hawks were in a logjam for goalies with Essensa, Steve Penney, Dave Quigley, with former AGM Pokey Reddick coming down for some stints in the season. That first season, Essensa only saw 27 games and went 7-11-1, which is a far cry from his years in college. Essensa would start the 1988-89 season with the Fort Wayne Komets of the IHL, playing 22 games going 14-7-1, before being called up to the Jets behind Reddick when Alain Chevrier got shipped to Chicago. Essensa would get 20 games in and go 6-8-3 with a shutout to his record. Back to Moncton for the start of the 1989-90 season, where Essensa would play six games (3-3-0, 2.51 GAA) before moving over the Winnipeg for the rest of the season, where he would take over the starting role from another AGM Daniel Berthiaume and Stephane Beauregard, while going 18-9-5 for the year and going 2-1 in the playoffs against the Edmonton Oilers. After being put in Moncton for two games (1-0-1), Essensa went back to the starting role in the 1990-91 season, where he would struggle with a 19-24-6 record and would miss the playoffs.
It was a horrible season for injuries in the 1991-92 season, as he would start the season off injured thanks to the sprained knee, then would deal with a left hamstring and left knee injury towards the middle of the season. With all of that, Essensa would only get 47 games in, going 21-17-6, but would lose out on his gig to another AGM, Rick Tabaracci in the playoffs, where he would only see one game, coming on in relief. Essensa would get back into the swing of things in the 1992-93 season playing mostly uninjured, sans two games, with 67 games in going 33-26-6 with two shutouts, but went 2-4 in the playoffs; which got the Jets ousted again in the first round. It was a very down season for Essensa in 1993-94, as he got all of the wins when he played, as his back-ups Beauregard and Mike O'Neill got zero wins in back-up duty. Essensa would get a 19-30-6 record before the Jets had to make a move.
That move would have Essensa and Sergei Bautin be dealt from Winnipeg to Detroit for Dallas Drake and former AGM Tim Cheveldae. Essensa would finish out the season in a disappointing fashion, going 4-7-2 in 13 games played. The 1994-95 season would see Essensa relegated to the IHL with the San Diego Gulls, playing only 16 games with a 6-8-1 record. A little better fortune for Essensa in 1995-96, though the bulk of the season was with the Fort Wayne Komets of the IHL, playing 55 games for them and going 24-14-5 with a .912 save percentage and 2.89 GAA. Though in the playoffs, he would only go 2-3 and the Komets were ousted in the first round. Essensa got a brief call-up to the AHL's Adirondack Red Wings, going 1-2-0 in his three games.
In the summer of 1996, Essensa was moved to the Edmonton Oilers from Detroit for future considerations. Essensa would be playing behind workhorse Curtis Joseph, which only allowed Essensa to see only 19 games of action in the 1996-97 season, going 4-8-0 in those games. More of the same in 1997-98, playing less games (16), but a better record at 6-6-1. The 1998-99 season was a bit better for Essensa, as he would get more time with Joseph leaving Edmonton; but would have to fight for space with another former AGM, Mikhail Shtalenkov, which would see Essensa get 39 games played and a 12-14-6 record with a 2.76 GAA.
With Tommy Salo in the fold, Essensa would sign as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes for the 1999-2000 season and would play alongside Shtalenkov again, before Sean Burke was moved to Phoenix and took over the starters role. Essensa would go 13-10-3 with the Coyotes, but would move onto the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent in the 2000-01 season. Essensa would get plenty of time with Vancouver, playing with Felix Potvin before Potvin was moved and Dan Cloutier came in. Essensa would go 18-12-3 for the season, but 0-2 in the playoffs as the Canucks were swept. Essensa had one last kick-in-the-can when he signed with the Buffalo Sabres, but would be behind Martin Biron, only getting nine games in before being pushed out by Mika Noronen. Essensa went 0-5-0 in that season and would hang up the pads once and for all.
Essensa would take a few years off from the game, but came back in 2005-06 as the Boston Bruins goaltender coach, where he still is employed now.
With Essensa, he was caught in a bind most of the time with a lot of goalies in one crease and Essensa being the odd-man out. While his college career made him a word-of-mouth star, he could never rekindle the magic when he got to the pros. Whether it was the team in front of him or his loss of the gift that got him to the show; Essensa could never find his groove for a long time. But, he did have one of the funniest and interestingly pronounced names out there.