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Cats' Oreskovich authoring unlikely comeback tale

by Larry Wigge
The puck came flying high into the air. It appeared no one could find the high-flying rebound, until rookie Victor Oreskovich knocked the puck out of the air and drove to the net to score the game-tying goal for the Florida Panthers in the final minutes of a Nov. 16 game against the Los Angeles Kings.

It wasn't just a goal for Oreskovich, however. And it was more than just the first NHL goal for the 6-foot-2, 225-pound fullback on skates. The drive, the determination, the passion he showed in getting to the net, that was the key for a player who not too long ago quit hockey after being a second-round draft choice, the 55th selection, by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2004 Entry Draft.

After scoring 28 goals and 32 assists in 62 games for Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League in 2006-07, Oreskovich was out of sight like that rebound. And out of mind, retiring from the game citing a case of burnout.

Last fall, Oreskovich was back at the University of Notre Dame earning his degree in finance -- not even thinking of being a feel-good hockey story for the Florida Panthers.

"Funny, but one day I was looking at some numbers equation and hockey popped into my mind," Oreskovich said following a 4-0 victory at St. Louis on Oct. 31, his first NHL came following a recall from Rochester of the American Hockey League, which followed an invitation to Florida's training camp at the behest of coach Pete DeBoer, who coached Victor at Kitchener.

"It's funny, but I was supposed to looking at my future in finance and all I could think of was hockey," Oreskovich said. "That fire came back. I just started really missing the game and I really wanted to try and make a comeback."

So, Victor picked up the phone and called his old coach.

"You don't forget the energy and speed a guy that size brings to the game," DeBoer laughed. "I immediately called Randy (Panthers GM Randy Sexton) and asked him to give Victor a tryout. What could it hurt, right?

"It's a great story of a kid who didn't want to give up his dream of someday playing in the NHL, even if he felt burned out a couple of years ago."

From that Halloween night victory in St. Louis to his first goal at home against Los Angeles a little more than two weeks later, Oreskovich has made the most of his first seven NHL games.

"He hits, he battles and basically makes the most of his ice time," veteran winger Cory Stillman said of Oreskovich, who played only 4:32 against Los Angeles and has been under 10 minutes of ice time on most nights.

Said Oreskovich, "It's pretty exciting and the timing made it a little sweeter, I guess. The journey from being retired from the game for two years to getting a tryout with the Panthers to making it to the NHL to getting my first NHL goal is, well, something I'll never forget.

"You live with your decisions -- to play or not to play. But I got to the point where I got the itch to return to the game and I would have never forgiven myself if I didn't give this a chance again."

Oreskovich is no sure thing for the Panthers. After all, he's gone from the Milton Merchants of the Tier 2 Ontario Provincial League to the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League to Notre Dame, then Kitchener, then Florida. But this finance major on skates is a terrific story nonetheless.

"I'll never forget signing with Colorado after my last year in Kitchener," he recalled. "But at that time, I had a couple injuries and had lost my passion for he game. I went to my second training camp with Colorado and then retired when they assigned me to Lake Erie."

Retired. Rehired. Now, recharged. That's Victor Oreskovich's story.

"The comeback is the best decision I've ever made," he said. "How fortunate, how lucky I am to to have a friend like Pete DeBoer to speak up for me and get me this opportunity."
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