Perched among the franchise’s all-time leading scorers, joined by wondrous women such as Jenna Cunningham and Rebecca Johnston, Brittany Esposito was one of the strong, silent types, a prototypical lunch pail worker, whose love of the game and endless determination generated highly positive results on the score sheet and in terms of positively shaping the team’s culture. Taken 23rd overall in the 2014 CWHL Draft, her sterling career reflected the organization’s shrewd ability to find gems in later rounds. Having also played in the first two CWHL All-Star Games, Esposito recorded a trio of campaigns where she registered at least 20 points.
Along with influential leaders Delayne Brian and Jacquie Pierri, all three, definitely representing the Inferno’s heartbeat for so many glorious seasons, have transitioned into retirement. Akin to her recently retired teammates, Esposito also played her collegiate hockey south of the border. While Brian stood between the pipes for the Wayne State Warriors and Robert Morris Colonials (in her senior season), and Pierri competed in the Ivy League with the Brown Bears, Esposito suited up for the Boston-based Northeastern Huskies, leaving an astounding legacy as an elite scorer. In addition to membership in the 100-point club, including an epic hat trick against New Hampshire on February 23, 2014, the final regular season home game of her proud career. Having also achieved an historic yet fascinating first in Huskies lore, it linked her to an integral moment in college hockey history.
Gracing the ice for Frozen Fenway, the first-ever NCAA women’s ice hockey game contested outdoors, as Northeatern challenged the New Hampshire Wildcats, Esposito scored the game’s first goal. Such a contest would see Esposito among other Huskies on the outdoor roster to grace CWHL ice. In addition to Esposito, All-World goaltender Florence Schelling stood between the pipes for the Brampton Thunder during the 2012-13 season (earning a nomination for Goaltender of the Year Award), while Chelsey Goldberg would remain stateside, wearing the Blades colors, the two would call each other opponents in CWHL play.
Worth noting, Reagan Fischer, a resident of Irma, Alberta who would one day call Esposito a teammate on the Inferno also played at Fenway Park. With the Dartmouth Big Green, she would compete at the hallowed venue in January 2012.
Having accumulated 83 career points, on the strength of 47 assists, Esposito’s final season in the red and black Inferno jersey involved tying her career-best for most points in one season. Reaching 25 points, Esposito attained career single season marks for goals (16), game-winning goals (4) and power-play goals (7), respectively.
Finishing her final season as the Inferno’s leading scorer, a notable career first, Esposito placed 11th overall in the race for the Angela James Bowl. Ranking sixth overall among all league skaters in goals scored, her seven power play goals trailed only Montreal’s Noemie Marin for the league lead, while her four game-winning goals ranked second only to Kunlun Red Star’s Kelli Stack, who would finish the season as the recipient of the league’s MVP Award. In addition, her four shootout goals would place her first overall in the league, while her six penalty minutes, testament to a highly disciplined approach were the lowest among the top 20 scorers.
To start the 2017-18 season, Esposito would record assists in a road sweep of the Boston Blades. Building on such momentum, Esposito would log at least one point in nine of the first 10 games of said season. Accumulating 11 points, including six goals, she would record a game-winning tally in a November 25 home affair against the Blades. Serving as the centrepiece of the Inferno offense, it was testament to Esposito’s versatility. One that has elevated her into a key asset while setting a positive example as a model teammate.
“I think my role with the team changed over the years and I played a few different parts, playmaker, depth player, and goal scorer. I think adapting to different roles was something a few of us had to do over the years and that really helped build our franchise, especially during our Clarkson Cup winning season.”
After playing for coaches such as NHL veteran Tim Bothwell, and Scott Reid, who would lead the Inferno to the 2016 Clarkson Cup, this season would result in a new presence on the Inferno bench. Playing for Tomas Pacina, whose previous experience involved a memorable run as the bench boss for the Calgary Oval X-Treme, where Bart Doan, husband of Catriona LeMay-Doan served as an assistant, dominating the women’s game in Western Canada, Esposito excelled under his tutelage.
With an Inferno roster that featured an unprecedented number of rookies, filling in a sizable gap left by a number of players that qualified for Canada’s Centralization Camp (in anticipation of the 2018 Winter Games), Esposito quickly became the focal point on offense. Simultaneously taking on the role of mentor for a group of rookie forwards that included Kelty Apperson, Kayla Gardner, Kennedy Brown, Annisa Gamble, plus Sophie Shirley, the eventual recipient of the CWHL Rookie of the Year Award; it was an opportunity for the rest of the hockey world to appreciate Esposito’s value to her team.
Reflecting on the chance to share her hockey odyssey with so many new faces, supplying her with a renewed appreciation of the game and a sincerity for the exciting future of the franchise, it also provided Esposito with a chance to treasure past teammates. In discussing the almost countless individuals who made a positive impact on her career, the names mentioned hold a treasured place in Inferno lore and the hearts of many fans and teammates alike,
“This is a tough one. I feel like there were so many people, staff volunteers, and teammates in general were always so supportive and made coming to the rink fun. Delayne Brian became one of my best friends and displayed some of the best goaltending I have ever seen. Jacquie Pierri was always such a supportive teammate; Erica Kromm has so much passion for the game and the Inferno franchise.
Kristen Hagg was an amazing teammate and a dedicated General Manager. Jessica Campbell was inspirational for her passion on the ice and work in the community. Iya Gavrilova, one of the fiercest players on the ice and extraordinary teammate.
I would (also) like to thank Tomas Pacina for his belief in our team and teaching us a different way to look at the game. And especially the rest of my teammates during this final season, I could not have asked for a better group to end my career with. It was such a fun, welcoming environment and one of the closest teams I have been on.”
Offensively, Esposito enjoyed the most success against one of the CWHL’s expansion teams from Shenzhen, China. Against the Vanke Rays, she would record nine points, slightly more than 35% of her offensive output for the season. Starting with a sterling performance at home versus the expansion Rays, the January 20 contest resulted in a career-high four goals. Recording at least one goal in every period, Esposito first added her name to the scoresheet with a goal at the 8:13 mark of the first, with assists credited to rookie sensation Kelly Murray and fellow Clarkson Cup champion Louise Warren.
Logging the first two goals of the second period, scored within 90 seconds of each other, the second goal of said period for Esposito would also stand as the game-winner. Her hot streak also marked the start of six unanswered goals for the club, extending their lead by seven goals, insurmountable by period’s end. As a side note, each of Esposito’s second period markers saw Dakota Woodworth gain an assist, enjoying one of her finest offensive efforts of the campaign.
With Brittney Fouracres obtaining her first goal of the season in the third period, one which also saw Rays rookie Lauren Kelly also score her first, it was only fitting that Esposito would score the game’s final goal. Burying the puck past goaltender Tianyi Zhang, it was a baptism of fire for the Rays rookie between the pipes. Coincidentally, fellow retiree Delayne Brian gained the win for the Inferno.
Complemented by an assist on a goal by Louise Warren (her sixth of the season), both enjoyed a five-point outburst in the 10-3 final, one which saw at least 13 Inferno players log at least one point in the commanding triumph. Appropriately, Esposito and Warren gained recognition as the First and Second Stars of the Game, while Rays prolific scorer Brooke Webster earned Third Star honors.
Providing Esposito with a remarkable season highlight, it only proved to be the first part in a superlative display of offensive brilliance. Less than one month later, the Inferno ventured across the Pacific for a pair of two-game series versus the Rays, and their expansion cousins, the Kunlun Red Star.
With the Inferno making their debut in China on February 3, 2018, Esposito once again enjoyed a multi-point effort versus the Rays, bookending her previous performance. Scoring twice, along with an assist, there was a strong sense of serendipity, as Pierri scored her fourth goal of the season, reaching a career high. The 6-2 final saw Esposito post points in all three periods, shaping up to be a key factor in the road victory, one that would prove to have eventual playoff implications.
Starting the game with a first period assist on a goal by Jacquie Pierri, she would score Calgary’s third goal of the game at the 7:02 mark of the second, as Woodworth posted her 11th assist of the season. With the Rays scoring the first goal of the third period, trimming the Inferno’s lead by two goals, Esposito would place the game out of reach with her second goal of the game, with Iya Gavrilova, a veteran with Russia’s national team, plus Katelyn Gosling, a former CIS All-Canadian, logging the assists. As a side note, Gosling would also record an assist on the last goal of the game, scored by rookie Kalya Gardneras the Inferno obtained their first victory in China. Appropriately, Esposito would gain First Star of the Game honors, while teammate Taryn Baumgardt gained Second Star, and Rays rookie Yue Hou obtained the admiration of the devoted home town fans with Third Star honors.
Scoring six goals during the month of February, it also brought a few memorable final milestones in Esposito’s fascinating odyssey with the Inferno. Hosting the Boston Blades on February 24, and 25, she would close out the month with three closing achievements. In addition to scoring goals in back-to-back games, signifying her last goal scoring streak, the series brought with it her last game-winning goal, plus her final CWHL goal.
Undeniably, Esposito’s final goal was one that encompassed tremendous emotion. With the Boston Blades holding a 3-0 lead after two periods of play, the Inferno fought back with a highly intense four-goal response in the third period. After Shirley scored her seventh of the season to lead off the third, followed by blueliner Brittney Fouracres at the 10:20 mark, five different Inferno skaters (including Captain Erica Kromm, Rhianna Kurio and Kayla Gardner logging assists) were involved.
Five minutes and one second after Fouracres’ goal, it was Esposito that tied the score, slipping the puck past Amanda Carridi, for her career-best 16th goal, capitalizing on a power play opportunity.
Coincidentally, Iya Gavrilova logged her 16th assist of the season on said goal, while Warren continued to enjoy her offensive renaissance, recording her 11th assist, finishing with her greatest season yet, amassing a solid 19 points to place fourth on the Inferno in scoring, respectively. With 46 seconds remaining in the contest, Gavrilova and Fouracres would combine forces to assist on Katelyn Gosling’s game-winning goal.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this narrative was the fact that it signified the final professional game contested between Esposito and her former Northeastern teammate Chelsey Goldberg. Although the two Huskies heroes would call each other opponents at the professional ranks, there was never a shortage of mutual respect between the two. In spite of the fact that their club teams were positioned on opposite ends of the continent, both always carried themselves with a tremendous feeling of pride as Huskies hockey represented a significant aspect of their shared hockey legacies.
Closing out the regular season with a March 11 road tilt with Les Canadiennes de Montreal, who featured highly prized free agent acquisition Hilary Knight on their roster, it was also the stage, which saw Esposito record the last point in her vaunted CWHL career. Although Montreal would battle back from a 2-1 deficit, prevailing in a dramatic 3-2 final, there was a unique sense of closure in Esposito’s memorable season. Obtaining the assist on a second period goal by Woodworth, which broke the 1-1 deadlock, it was only fitting that Warren would gain the other assist, as both displayed a remarkable offensive synergy on the ice.
Serendipitously, Warren also achieved career highs in scoring this season, as her personal success and strong on-ice rapport with Esposito rekindled other fond memories for the recently retried scorer. Of note, both were members of the Inferno’s Clarkson Cup championship team in 2016, the first professional hockey championship for Calgary since the NHL’s Flames captured the Stanley Cup in 1989.
“Obviously the Clarkson Cup championship was one of the best moments of my Inferno career. I would say I am most proud of my ability to adapt as the years went on. Some seasons were a little more difficult with less playing time than I am used to, but that just made me appreciate the game and my teammates so much more.
I am so grateful that I had a coach who believed in me, and teammates that believed in each other during my final season. I am also very proud to say that I, at one point in my life, was the franchise leader in points for the Calgary Inferno, because I know there will be some very impressive names on that list in the future.”
Similar to retired teammate Jacquie Pierri, Esposito’s next chapter involves a departure from Alberta. While Pierri is making the trek to Barcelona, Spain to pursue her academic studies in Sustainability, Esposito is also heading eastwards. Ready to share her strong knowledge of the game with a group of apt players at the University of New Brunswick, she continues the growing legacy of former star players taking on coaching roles.
Transitioning into this new facet of her hockey career, it is one that sees Esposito surrounded by a familiar face in Alberta hockey circles. Named one of the Top 100 Influential People at the University of Alberta by Wanderer Magazine in 2013, Sarah Hilworth has coached at numerous levels of the game, including as the first-ever coach of the Olds College Broncos. In addition, she has also served as an assistant floor hockey coach for Special Olympics Edmonton. Also joining them on the coaching staff shall be Pamela Pachal, who captured the 2001 NCAA Frozen Four with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.
Poised to be a highly effective collaboration where a shared love of the game and an incredible knowledge shall definitely yield positive results, Esposito’s tutelage will transform a group of young players into reliable competitors that can serve as the cornerstone of any team they play for. Undoubtedly, Esposito ponders this move with considerable excitement, ready to see her career evolve while gaining satisfaction in the opportunity to prepare a new generation to emulate her own tremendous heroics,
“I am excited to stay connected to the game and I look forward to teaching the little things. I have dealt with a few injuries throughout my career and tried to make those into opportunities to encourage my teammates. It was always so rewarding to see a teammate attempt something I mentioned and to see them do it well.
One of my best friends, Sarah Hilworth, interviewed for the head-coaching job at UNB and asked me to be her assistant coach. I have been her assistant coach in a few different tournaments and we work well together, there is a lot of trust and respect.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: All-Star Game by Jess Bazal
Inferno game action by Dave Holland and Joseph Leung
Fenway Park (L-R) Kelsey O’Sullivan, Claire Santostefano, Brittany Esposito, Maggie Brennolt and Katie MacSorley. Image from the Sonia St Martin collection