Greenwich Native, Harvard’s Esposito Taking it to Next Level
While most of us were enjoying some fun in the sun, firing up the grill or just spending quality time with friends and family during start of July, Greenwich native and Harvard University junior Luke Esposito only had ice hockey on his mind.
From July 1 to July 6, the Greenwich right winger and around 40 other hockey prospects traveled north of the border to be a part of the Edmonton Oilers 2015 Orientation Camp to showcase their talents.
“It was really awesome,” Esposito said. “It was a great experience and I saw how close I am, but I guess I could also say that I saw how far away I am as well. College has been awesome to prepare me for that, but I still have two more years. So for me, it’s important to be patient, not rush myself, and know that when the time comes, I have put in all the work that I possibly could. Hopefully I will be ready to make that next step.”
Esposito, (5-10, 175-pounds) fresh off helping Harvard reach new heights in its men’s hockey program last season, said that he received a call and email with all the details about his opportunity with Edmonton, and couldn’t have been more excited for the chance to showcase his skills.
“Getting the opportunity to play there, in a city and organization that has so much history and with the fans that have there, is great,” Esposito said. “Hockey is everything for them, so it was really awesome and I was excited, got down to work and tried to be as prepared as I could.”
To say that the orientation camp was challenging is a massive understatement. For six days, Esposito got up at the crack of dawn and either spent time in the weight room or on the ice of the Rexall Place, home of the Oilers.
“It was a lot of hard work and a lot of long days,” Esposito said. “We got up at 7 and would ride mountain bikes through the river valley and an hour to the rink. Then you were either on the ice or in the gym right away. There was no time to slack off. You are finally there, so you try and put everything you have into every session. It was a grueling week, but the amount of skill level there and the looks that you’re getting from the organization makes you want to perform your best during every session. While it was long, it was fun. I made some good friends with guys I expect to keep in touch with as my career goes along.”
In addition to working on skating drills, the orientation camp included fitness testing, off-ice workouts and team building experiences. However, it was the first day that was the most draining for Esposito, due to all the physical testing.
Included in the testing was the Windgate test, a test most often conducted on a cycle ergometer that measures peak anaerobic power in athletes; a Vo2 Max bike test, which measures a hockey player’s endurance; 300-meter sprints; bench presses; chin-ups and much more.
“It was really good, hoping that all your training paid off,” Esposito said. “Then it was all about settling into the way you know your body can perform and trying and do your best at every test. It was a long day. With all the testing, as well as medical testing, it was about a five-hour day before we even got to go on the ice. By that point you’re pretty exhausted, so you’re trying to get through that one day and get back in your bed for a little sleep. It was long, but it was exciting to test yourself.”
Brunswick School ice hockey head coach and athletic director Ron VanBelle had the privilege of working with Esposito during his tenure as a Bruin and said that what made Esposito stand out was his outstanding work ethic.
“He wasn’t the best natural hockey player in New England, but the work he put in freshman year and during the summer made him one of the stronger sophomores,” VanBelle said. “He wasn’t the best sophomore, but the work he put in during his sophomore year and summer made him one of the top 10 juniors. The work he put in between junior and senior year made him one of the top seniors in the league. Next thing you know he gets a Harvard commitment and then is being invited to NHL camps. The kid continues to set lofty goals for himself and continues to go out and work his butt off.”
For Esposito, playing hockey with the Edmonton sweater on his back and being involved in the NHL in general, has to have special meaning. His uncle, Mark Messier, also a Greenwich resident, was a member of the Oilers from the start of the 1979 season to the 1991 season. During his tenure with Edmonton, Messier won five Stanley Cups, won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1984, and played in eight All-Star games.
In addition, Esposito’s great uncle, Murray Murdoch, was one of the original New York Rangers and a former Yale University ice hockey head coach.
“I never got to see my uncle play there, but whether it was watching the old games or hearing the stories from everyone in the family, you feel somewhat of a connection to that place,” Esposito said. “Being able to experience that from a player’s perspective was pretty incredible.”
While at Oilers camp, Esposito got to compete against this year’s NHL top draft pick Connor McDavid, the 18-year-old phenom from the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League who scored 44 goals and 78 assists during the regular season and 21 goals and 28 assists in the playoffs this year.
“He’s unbelievable,” Esposito said. “He’s on another level than anybody else out there. And that’s saying something because there was some amazing talent there. He’s something special, that’s for sure.”
While he’s hoping his hard work pays off with his time at Oilers orientation camp, it’s now time for Esposito to focus in on the upcoming ice hockey season at Harvard.
“I absolutely love it there,” Esposito said. “From the academic side to the social life and the friends that I’ve met there has been great. Obviously, the hockey side has really improved over the past few years. My freshman year we weren’t that great, but you can see the culture starting to develop, how hard guys were working and how dedicated everybody was to turn the program around.”
During his freshman season, the Crimson finished the season 10-17-4 overall and 6-12-4 in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. But last year things were quite different, as Harvard finished 21-13-3, 11-8-3 in the ECAC.
Harvard beat Brown University and Yale University in the first round and quarterfinals of the ECAC tourney and then upended Quinnipiac University 5-2 in the semis and then Colgate 4-2 to claim the ECAC championship.
“We had some success last year,” Esposito said. “We won the ECAC and got our first tournament berth since 2006. It was pretty incredible and something we are proud of, but obviously we are not satisfied. We are ranked preseason No. 4 this year, so now we feel like we can compete for a national championship like everybody else can.”
While most hockey players have the goals of getting bigger, stronger and faster every year, Esposito said that he’s really focusing his attention on getting faster.
“When I read something about Luke, I’m not surprised,” VanBelle said. “When I heard about Harvard or when I found out he’s on the power play at Harvard or when I found out he’s getting tons of minutes at Harvard and playing really well, none of that stuff surprised me. After coaching that kid and knowing how he approaches the game and his work ethic, I knew he was going to do some really good things.”
While Esposito is a proud member of the Crimson and has shown his talents to the NHLL’s Edmonton Oilers, he still hasn’t forgotten where he started this journey back in the sixth grade at Brunswick School.
“It was great there,” Esposito said. “From the time I joined and played middle school hockey there, the varsity team was goal for everybody that played hockey. I was lucky enough to make it my freshman year and really develop by playing with bigger and stronger guys. That helped me a lot. Playing under that varsity program for four years was a great chance for me to come into my own and really test myself. The program turned into a Division I program my sophomore year, and it has only gotten better. You’re automatically thrown into a tough schedule, but it was fun to really get a lot of ice time and learn what your strengths and weaknesses are and what you need to work on.”
For VanBelle, seeing another standout athlete achieve great things from the Brunswick hockey program puts a smile on his face.
“You’re always going to be really proud when you see one of your former players succeed at the next level,” VanBelle said. “Our job is to do as much as we can to get the guys that want to play college hockey ready for the next step. To watch a player continue to succeed, and know he was in your locker room and was playing for you, is a really good feeling. I am proud of my program and how far we’ve come. Luke was one of our first that really came out of our program and got a lot of looks. It’s been fun to look at.”
With this junior season just around the corner, and the high hopes that the Harvard ice hockey team has this season, Esposito is going to work his hardest to help the Crimson go for an NCAA title this season, the same thing he’s done since middle school at Brunswick.
“I want to really work on my power side of my training,” Esposito said. “I want to work on my explosiveness out of turns and out of the corner. That can really help me separate myself from defenders and will give me time to make the plays that I know I can make.”
However, when Esposito starts to talk to his friends about what he did during his summer vacation, he definitely will have an exciting story or two to tell.
“Division I NCAA athletes only play 30 games a year, so the rest of the season and the rest of our year is devoted to basically getting better every day,” Esposito said. “It was pretty incredible to have something like that, coming from the college side of things to getting invited to a camp like that, and getting a little recognition for all the hard work we’re putting in.”