-- Of all the Canadian players celebrating Monday's gold-medal win against Sweden, none beamed brighter than Angelo Esposito
It's been a long three years for Esposito, filled with far more bitter than sweet.
Late Monday night, though, all the bad was forgotten.
Plummeting from a projected No. 1 pick in the 2007 Entry Draft to No. 20. Traded by the team that selected him before he even plays a game for them. And most infamously, becoming only the second player to be cut three times from Canada's national junior evaluation camp.
All gone in the blink of a golden eye.
"Everyone is pretty happy," said Esposito, "but for me, I've been waiting four years for this chance. To finally have it, there aren't any words I can use to describe it."
Esposito scored three goals in the tournament, but his last one was his most important. He won a battle for the puck along the wall in the Canada end, walked in on net and beat Jacob Markstrom
with a backhand from the edge of the left face-off circle.
The goal ended up becoming the game-winner; Hollywood couldn't have scripted a better ending.
"I love the story," said Canada coach Pat Quinn
. "A lot of people -- including perhaps his agents -- said, 'Don't bother going, you've been cut so many times' … but he wanted to come. He wanted a chance to play, he wanted a chance to live his dream, and he was not going to be denied. We had to pick him for this team. It was a strong pick and he performed well."
Thought to be a pick out of pity -- no one wanted to Esposito set the dubious mark of being cut from four World Juniors teams -- he ended up playing with John Tavares
and Chris DiDomenico on Canada's top line and being a strong penalty killer.
"As our scouting indicated, he had worked on his game to become a better all-round player," said Quinn. "And he not only played with speed, he helped that line. It wasn't a real fast line except for Angelo's speed, and he used it extremely well. He was defensively conscious. He was the conscious on that line as far as defensive play was concerned."
"I came into this camp and wanted to be on this team no matter what role it was," said Esposito. "I ended up moving up as time went on. I just tried to be the best player I could be, and as the days went on I got better and better and that was my objective. Tonight was an unbelievable game."
His teammates were just as proud for him.
"We talked about winning it for every single guy in that room," said team captain Thomas Hickey
. "Each guy had their reason for being here and why it was more sweet in the end. He's definitely one of those guys. He steps up with a huge goal tonight. That's one of the things that makes you feel good for him, that he got the game winner tonight."
"I feel great just for him to be part of the team," added Zach Boychuk
. "There aren't too many guys out there that after three times would come back for the fourth time. I don't know if I would. To see him do that and contribute so much for the team, he was on the first line with Tavares, he scored the game-winner tonight. I'm just glad to be part of that story."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.