It was a script far easier written than executed for the now 29-year-old Esposito, who first laced up his skates for a different purpose – figure skating. “I followed in my sister’s footsteps,” he said. “They put her in figure skating, and when I was three, they signed me up too. I just got her old skates.”
With some encouragement from his uncle, Esposito began playing ice hockey at the age of seven. He eventually landed at the famed Shattuck-Saint Mary’s boarding school in Minnesota, where he faced the decision of pursuing major junior or US college hockey. “[Fifteen years old] is a young age to make such a decision whether or not to play Quebec major junior hockey and give up your NCAA rights,” he said. “It’s tough on kids, and it puts a lot of them in an unfortunate situation, but it’s something that helps you grow.”
Eventually deciding to play with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, Esposito experienced both the highs (177 points in 117 games leading up to his draft year) and lows (being cut from Canada’s World Junior team three years in a row) of high-level hockey. Along the way, he won a Memorial Cup and the World Junior gold medal. Success in Esposito’s pro career, however, proved to be far more elusive.
After dropping to the 20th overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Esposito fell into the grind of a hockey journeyman. He was traded and hurt as he went through the American and East Coast hockey leagues. “I tore my ACL in my last year of junior, and I stepped into play in the American Hockey League. I wasn’t ready yet, and within 10 games I tore my ACL again.” It’s a narrative that repeated itself several times throughout his career. “After that I came back to training camp in Atlanta, and I think in my first intersquad game, I took a bad hit and I tore my hip labrum,” he said. Esposito then suffered a concussion that sidelined him for several weeks. Overall, between 2009 and 2012, he played in just 133 of his teams’ 236 games.
Following that injury-plagued three-year stretch, Esposito made the jump across the pond initially signing in the Finnish Elite League. Despite making the leap, his mind didn’t stray from his National Hockey League aspirations. “My first year over in Europe, I was still looking to come back,” Esposito said. “I think it was in my second year playing in Austria when I said, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s time to look at a pro career in Europe.’” Esposito’s new lease on professional hockey life led him to Cortina and Milan of the Italian Serie-A hockey league. A dual citizen who has family in Naples and Ascoli, he embraced the opportunity to return to his cultural roots while practicing his professional craft. “I went down [to Ascoli] twice to visit them,” he said. “I visited towns my grandparents grew up in and all my cousins over there.”
Following the 2015-16 season where he played in Cortina, Esposito hung up his skates. He is now retired from professional hockey and back living in Montreal. He’s remade himself as a hockey instructor and real estate investor, owning close to 40 housing units in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Esposito is now embracing his new identity and looking forward. “If I kept being disappointed and looking back and saying, ‘What could have been?’ I think I’d be miserable for the rest of my life,” he said. “I’ve come to realize there’s a lot more in life than hockey.”