For two years, QMJHL fans were delighted by Sidney Crosby’s remarkable demonstration of talent and tremendous will to perform every time he went on the ice.
Given the way he has started his junior career, Quebec Remparts 16-year-old phenom Angelo Esposito has demonstrated so far that he could help junior hockey fans pass through the grief caused by Crosby’s precocious departure for the NHL.
Esposito didn’t lose time in the CHL, scoring the first goal of the league’s 2005-06 season on his very first shift on the ice with 68 seconds played. Played on Sept. 15, the league opening game was on the road for the Remparts in Crosby’s former haunt of Rimouski.
On, Saturday, Hockey’s Future drove 500 kilometers to see the Montreal-born player in action in Quebec City against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
A huge performance
A few seconds after the opening faceoff, the 6’1, 174-pound center set the tone showing his will to be involved in the game, hitting an opponent along the boards. Later in the mid-period, he received a pass on the fly at the red line, changed the gear passing the right defenseman easily and set a perfect pass to Alexander Radulov (NAS) who scored on a one-timer.
“It was an extraordinary pass,” said the new Remparts coach Patrick Roy after the game.
The 6048 spectators applauded at this show. It was just the beginning.
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In the second period, Esposito scored a goal in the fourth minute assisted by Radulov. Then, while Quebec were shorthanded, he used his speed and anticipation again, breaking up a play in the central zone en route for a two-on-one with Radulov, whom he set again a perfect pass converted to a goal.
At the end of the period, Radulov made a play in the neutral zone. Anticipating the result of Radulov’s action, Esposito set off like a shot, got the puck and was sent in a breakaway. He found a hole up high, beating Rouyn-Noranda goaltender Jonathan Jobin.
With a minute played in the third, his team playing with a man short, Esposito made a play at the Huskies blue line and again faced Jobin in a one-on-one situation. This time, the Remparts’ #7 made a smooth move before making a backhand shot that reached the net behind Jobin.
At this precise moment, the NHL scout who was interviewed by HF about Esposito’s qualities simply stopped talking before saying: “You see what I’m talking about?”
In the stands, the fans went wild. This goal would be presented again and again if junior hockey was covered by national television.
When the young center came back to the bench, Roy, who shows as much intensity behind the team bench as he was used to in the net, looked at him and simply smiled with pride.
It was the first ever hat trick for Esposito in the QMJHL, but there are more to come. Overall, he scored three goals and assisted two others leading the Remparts to a 6-4 victory over the Huskies.
Esposito played on the first line as well as on the first power play and shorthanded units. He showed intensity and was continuously involved in the action, generating pressure on the opponents all game long. Esposito played with intelligence and often came back deep in his territory in order to help the defensemen. In brief, he never looked like a 16-year-old player.
The spectators enjoyed a great show given by a kid who was barely playing his seventh game at the junior level. Despite his young age, Esposito was simply dominating the game with his teammate Radulov.
“At times, the show he gives on the ice with Radulov — who by the way will for sure make the NHL next year — is so wonderful that it does happen that I forget to change the lines,” said Roy in the post game press conference. “Both want a lot of ice time and it is normal,” he added.
With the music playing loudly in the dressing room after the game, humble, Esposito said that is was a good night for him. “I worked hard. I have fun playing with Radulov, we are passing the puck very well to each other.”
Leading the QMJHL
With 16 points (8 goals, 8 assists), one more than Crosby recorded after the same amount of games played at the same age, Esposito leads the league in scoring thus far.
Talent does not suffice for being the best of the best. Work and effort are part of the equation as well. The greatest know that and put it in practice. Informed by Hockey’s Future that he leads in scoring, Esposito smiled and simply said he goes on the ice to have fun and to work as hard as possible. “It is motivating,” he then commented. “It is a motivation for working harder.”
Roy said of the Esposito’s performance at this point of the season. “You know,” he said, “When I talked with his parents before he decided to come to Quebec, I told them that I would not put pressure on their kid.”
A hard worker who wants to improve
Three times in the last four games, Esposito has been named the first star of the game and once he deserved the second one. During this period, he accumulated 15 points.
“In the first games, I needed to get adapted to the QMJHL style which is faster and more physical than the one played in the prep school,” commented Esposito after the game. “It is better now, but I still have a lot of things to improve.”
“Before the games, he comes to me and ask for what he could improve,” related Roy after the game. “He wants to improve his game. This is a great quality and a team needs players like that, the type of athletes who are never satisfied with their game.”
Obviously, Roy is ecstatic about his recent acquisition. “You know, the fans love the superstars. The Remparts fans are waiting since Guy Lafleur to have an exceptional superstar. Angelo has the ingredients needed to become like Lafleur for the Quebec Remparts.”
The inevitable comparison
Are people talking of Crosby to you, HF asked Esposito. “Yes, they are,” he said.
Do you feel a pressure for being eventually compared again and again to Crosby? “No, because I can’t be compared to him. His name has been associated with guys like Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. I’m most flattered for being compared with Crosby but my sole goal is to work for becoming a better hockey player. Sincerely, I do not feel pressure about the comparison.”
Simon Richard is the author of La Serie du siecle, Septembre 1972, a book about the Summit Series published in 2002. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.