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Trade a wake-up call for Esposito

by Brad Holland

Center Angelo Esposito, the Pens' top pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, was included in the package that brought all-star forward Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh.
Less than a year removed from being selected 20th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins have given up on Angelo Esposito, the talented Quebec Remparts center.

Esposito had his rights dealt at the NHL trade deadline from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Atlanta thrashers as part of the much- ballyhooed Marian Hossa deal. Being traded can cause even the most grizzled, veteran hockey player to question himself, but the way in which that player responds can speak volumes about his character.

Esposito's response? Three straight games of three points or more, with a total of three goals and 10 points along the way.

Not bad for a kid who just turned 19.

In addition, Esposito and the rest of the Quebec Remparts won each of the three games, defeating the Drummondville Voltigeurs on Wednesday, and then sweeping a home-and-home with the Victoriaville Tigres on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. In all, the Remparts outscored their opponents by a 22-8 margin, and Esposito had a hand in almost 50 percent of his team's offense.

He is learning that sometimes, being traded can be the best thing for you.

Just ask Florida Panthers prospect Shawn Matthias, who had his rights dealt to the Panthers by the Detroit Red Wings in the deal that sent Todd Bertuzzi to the Motor City at the 2007 trade deadline. He had 12 points in his final seven regular-season games, and then exploded for 13 goals and 18 points in 15 playoff games.

Matthias has since led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring for stretches, won a World Junior Championship gold medal (he did not even receive an invite to the WJC Tryout Camp in 2006), skated in his first NHL game and scored his first – and second – NHL goals.

Being traded can give a player the nudge he needs to fully realize his potential. If so, Esposito heard that wake-up call loud and clear.

Whether it was the slight of being traded that has snapped Esposito to attention after a lackluster sophomore season, or just that he is anxious to prove to the Penguins they were far too hasty in giving up on his development, the trade has been like a lightning strike for Esposito.

The 10-point outburst in his past three games was the most explosive one-week output of his 2007-08 campaign. He now has 29 goals and 36 assists for 65 points in 51 games this season, good for 24th in overall QMJHL scoring.

Around the QMJHL – With six goals (and one assist) this week, Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward Francis Pare has become the QMJHL's first 50-goal scorer. the five-year 'Q' veteran has increased his goal totals in each of his five seasons, with totals of two, 24, 26, 29 and now 52 and counting, and he quite possibly is playing the best hockey of his young career. … Baie-Comeau Drakkar forward Benjamin Breault was awarded Telus Offensive Player of the Month honors as he had six goals and nine points and played to a plus-6 rating in three games. He and the Drakkar earned six points in the standings with wins over the Cataractes, the Voltigeurs and the Sagueneens. … In addition to the first 50-goal scorer, the QMJHL has its first 100-point man in Acadie-Bathurst forward Mathieu Perreault. Perreault cracked the century mark with a two-goal, three-point performance in a 5-4 loss to the Gatineau Olympiques on March 2. Perreault leads all scorers with 32 goals and 101 points through 59 games this season. … Telus Defensive Player of the Week honors went to St. John's Fog Devils goaltender Jake Allen. Allen played to a 1-0-1 record in his two starts, with one shutout, a 1.44 goals-against average and a .963 save percentage. He stopped 79 of the 82 shots fired his way in the two games.

Ontario Hockey League

The Windsor Spitfires returned to full competition this week, their hearts still heavy from the passing of team captain Mickey Renaud, and won a game for their fallen captain, even if it didn't say so on the final score sheet.

The Belleville Bulls may have finished with the two points, but the Spitfires came away with far more. The heart they showed, and the support they received from one another, from the crowd, from the community, and even their opponents, will go a long way in beginning to heal the hurt these players undoubtedly still feel.

It was the Spitfires' first game in just less than two weeks, quite possibly the 12 most difficult days of these young hockey players' lives.

Each player on both teams wore Renaud's No. 18 jersey, and each also wore a ceremonial “18” sticker on their helmets. the game began with a video tribute, and Mickey's brother, Remy Renaud, dropped the ceremonial first puck; though no Spitfire skater would think of taking the faceoff, an honor reserved for the team captain.

It wasn't the first tribute of the night, nor would it be the last, as the Spitfires played an emotionally charged game, heart-and-soul to the end, in an inspiring 4-3 shootout defeat.

Only, it didn't feel like a loss to anyone in red this night.

"We definitely wanted to get through the first game without him," said defenseman Ryan Ellis. "We really wanted to win it for him, that's what we had our minds set on. But coming out with a point is not bad against the second-place team in our league."

Ellis pointed to the sky after converting on his chance during the shootout.

It was a night that the hockey community will not soon forget.

Around the OHL -- After losing in their first game back after the death of captain Mickey Renaud, the Spitfires rebounded with two road wins – a 3-0 defeat of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and then a 4-3 overtime defeat of the Saginaw Spirit. … Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds goaltender Kyle Gajewski earned the Boston Pizza OHL Player of the Week honors by posting a pair of wins, a 0.50 goals-against average and a .983 save percentage in two starts. Gajewski now is second in GAA in the OHL this season, first in wins and games played, and tied for eighth in save percentage. … the Kitchener Rangers, who already boast the league's best record and hold a berth in the Memorial Cup Championship as hosts, have stretched their season-high winning streak to 11 consecutive games. … Luca Caputi, the league's third-leading scorer, hoisted the Niagara IceDogs on his back in the absence of veteran alternate captain Stefan Legein, who had been out since being injured in the World Junior Championship in early January. He will get a little help now as Legein has returned and is making his presence felt. Legein scored and added an assist in his first OHL game since Dec. 12, and then completed a Gordie Howe hat trick with a fight midway through the second period of a 10-5 defeat of the Erie Otters on Sunday afternoon. Legein has 18 goals and 29 points in 24 games this season.

United States Hockey League

Ownership and coaching shake-ups made headlines in the USHL this week.

The Des Moines Buccaneers underwent an ownership change, and as a result, head coach and General Manager Regg Simon resigned. Assistant coach Todd Knott will take over on an interim basis for the remainder of the season.

"I felt it was in my best interest personally and professionally to step down at this time." Simon told "I appreciate the opportunity the organization has given me and I wish them the best of luck in the future."

Elsewhere, it was Bobby Kinsella, assistant coach and recruiting director for the Sioux City Musketeers, who announced his intention to step down at the conclusion of the season to join the Boston Junior Rangers Midget AAA team as head coach and general manager.

In addition, Kinsella will serve as Associate Hockey Director for Global Hockey, an amateur hockey development program.

Mark Mazzoleni's tenure as head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Gamblers was terminated this week, as PMI, the company that owns the club, announced the team was in need of a new direction.

Around the USHL -- the Omaha Lancers faltered in their quest for a regular-season title this week, dropping consecutive games to the Sioux City Musketeers on Friday night and to the Tri-City Storm on Saturday. It marked the first time since back-to-back losses at Lincoln and at Sioux Falls on Jan. 4-5 that the Lancers had dropped two consecutive games. they still lead the USHL regular-season points race, but the Indiana Ice are in prime position to take them down. the Ice sit only one point behind the Lancers with two games in hand. … Jack Connoly of the Sioux Falls Stampede had two goals and four assists in three games this week, helping his team to a 2-1 record. the two wins capped a four-game homestand in which the Stampede were able to take six of a possible eight points. Connolly, the USHL's leading scorer, now has 19 goals and 59 points through 46 games this season. … University of Miami RedHawk and former Chicago Steel forward Andy Miele still leads the USHL in goals, though he hasn't played in league game since Jan. 5. the talented forward had put up 30 goals in 29 games before leaving for college. Closest to his totals is Stampede forward Jake Hansen, who has scored 28 goals in 48 games. Hansen had two goals and an assist this Sunday in a 6-2 defeat of the Tri-City Storm, giving him five points on the week and 51 for the season.

Western Hockey League

The race for the top seed in the Western Conference is a tight one, and the Tri-City Americans, Vancouver Giants, or Spokane Chiefs could emerge as conference champions.

What could turn out to be an even more valuable bonus is that the top two seeds likely will avoid meeting the WHL's hottest team, the Everett Silvertips, in the first round of the playoffs.

If the postseason started today, it would be the Spokane against Everett in Round 1. the Silvertips have a record of 2-0-1 and have earned five of a possible six points from the Chiefs in their past three matchups. the Silvertips have played to an 8-0-0-1 record in their past nine games, and are looking every bit like a first-round upset in the making.

In addition, the Silvertips have won five of those eight games by a one-goal margin, which speaks to their ability to play playoff hockey. Historically a more defensive and more tightly-checked game, the Silvertips are showing their comfort playing that sort of style.

And they definitely are picking the right time to heat up.

Around the WHL – If the playoffs began today, the first-round matchup for the Chilliwack Bruins would be a foe they remember all too well – the Vancouver Giants. the Bruins were ousted in five games in last year's first round by the eventual WHL runners-up and Memorial Cup champions, a series that ended with some fireworks as 72 minutes in penalties were handed out after the completion of Game 5. … WHL leading scorer Colin Long of the Kelowna Rockets saw his nine-game scoring streak snapped on Sunday against the Portland Winter Hawks. It was the Santa Anna, Calif., native's longest streak of the season, but his fifth of seven games or more. He had four goals and 12 points during the nine-game stretch, adding to his league-leading totals of 94 points in 66 games, one more than Chilliwack Bruins forward Mark Santorelli. … With four goals and nine points in his past six games, Medicine Hat Tigers forward Tyler Ennis is doing what he can to help the Tigers hunt down the fourth slot in the Eastern Conference playoff race and earn home-ice advantage in Round 1. Currently, the Tigers are one point behind the fourth-place Kootenay Ice … Regina Pats forward Jordan Eberle had a big week, totaling three goals and six assists in three games. the Regina Pats won all three of those games. … Leading defensive scorer Ty Wishart (San Jose) has helped the Moose Jaw Warriors stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race by putting up a goal and six assists for seven points in his past six games.


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