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Former junior star Esposito relives glory days with 2006 Mem Cup champs

05/24/2015 04:30 EDT | Updated 05/24/2016 05:59 EDT
QUEBEC - Attending a reunion of the Quebec Remparts' 2006 Memorial Cup championship team brought back the good times for former hockey prodigy Angelo Esposito.

In those days, the smooth skating centre was considered a candidate to go first overall in the 2007 NHL draft and, while not quite a generational player like Connor McDavid, become a star.

It didn't quite work out that way for the Montreal native, who ended up going 20th overall to Pittsburgh, bounced around a few organizations, and never played an NHL game.

"That was a while ago, but you'll never forget winning the Memorial Cup and bringing it back here and having thousands of fans in front of you while you're up on stage holding up the Cup," Esposito said Sunday. "It's something I'll never forget."

Nearly the entire 2006 Remparts squad was on hand to be honoured at Quebec's game against the Oshawa Generals. A few missed it, including Russian star Alexander Radulov who had visa trouble, but players like San Jose defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and goalie Cedrick Desjardins were on hand.

Junior hockey was the high point for Esposito, who had 39 goals and 98 points in his first season. His stock dropped when he fell to 79 points in his draft year. He slipped again to 69 the following season, but had his moment at the world junior championship in Ottawa where he scored the game winner in the final for Canada.

Since then, a succession of injuries, including two torn ACL ligaments, a torn MCL and a hip problem, have stalled his career and dropped him into obscurity. Last season, he played one game for Fort Wayne of the ECHL and then was waived and didn't play again.

"It was a tough year mentally and physically," the 26-year-old said. "I've been through a lot over the last few years, so I took the year off.

"I started training about two months ago and I'm looking to go back and play in Europe again next year."

Pittsburgh traded him to Atlanta and he spent time in the Florida and Dallas organizations before he was released in 2012. He played a year in Finland, another in Italy and another in the Austrian league, not scoring many goals on any stop.

"You have to learn to accept things," he said. "Everyone's destined for something in life.

"It's too bad I never got to step on the ice in the NHL. You never want to say never, but you have to be realistic and come to terms with it. There's something else waiting out there and hopefully I get to achieve something else."

Vlasic feels for his former teammate.

"He had so much talent, so much potential," said Vlasic. "It's too bad. He was such a nice guy, such a great player."

Esposito thought about retiring, but wasn't ready for life without hockey.

How good it can be was underlined by getting back together with his Memorial Cup teammates.

"It means a lot," he said. "They were great moments. You form bonds with a group of guys, like today, we haven't talked in a while, but it's like you saw them yesterday."

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