Every team has its inside jokes and player nicknames. Around the Northeastern women’s hockey team this season, the nickname for fifth-year senior Brittany Esposito is quite fitting.
“There have been a lot of jokes this season calling me, ‘Coach Esposito,’ ” said the Edmonton, Alberta, native. “I just like being able to impart my knowledge on others.”
Sharing her love and passion for the game of hockey is what the forward has become known for during her Huskies career. It is not necessarily the 37 goals and 55 assists that have made her an integral part of the Northeastern squad, which was 11-12-2 (7-6-2 in Hockey East) in late January.
“She is a real student of the game,” said Northeastern head coach Dave Flint (Merrimack, N.H.), who counts Esposito as one of his first recruits after taking over the program in 2008. “She’s probably our most skilled player, and she really studies the game.”
Esposito’s love for hockey became apparent to Flint when she suffered an ACL injury during her sophomore year that required surgery. The injury limited her to just 13 games at the start of the 2010-11 season. During that redshirt year, she did not let herself become disengaged from her team or the game.
“When she was hurt, she was always in the stands taking notes and then coming down to the locker room in-between periods,” recalled Flint. “The other players took note of that, and that’s a big part of why they elected her a captain this season.”
The injury reoccured last season, and she played through it as much as possible. She eventually had another surgery this offseason, bringing her career total to three ACL surgeries. She missed just over a month at the beginning of this season due to the recovery.
The assistant captain is humble when asked about her staying involved with the team when she has been injured.
“It’s important in so many ways,” said Esposito. “I wanted to be able to help my coaches. I wanted to be able to tell my teammates the little things they were doing right, and to help them out. It is always nice to hear if you’re doing something right. And I tried to apply those things to my own game when I came back.”
Though observing helped her feel a part of the team, the times she has been off the ice have not been easy. “There have been some tough moments, for sure,” said Esposito. “When I wasn’t able to play in the beginning of this year, it was frustrating.”
Being so far away from home, those difficult times had to be dealt with without her family nearby, but Esposito’s teammates have stepped into that role. “When my family has been far away, my teammates have been able to step in, and they’ve been there for me,” she said.
When she has been healthy, Esposito has served as a mentor for teammates struggling with their own injuries. This year, that advice has been used often.
“This year, we have had a lot of injuries, and she has had her own significant injuries, and she can help the others with being off the ice and coming back,” said Flint.
Esposito also is insistent on keeping those who are off the ice involved in everyday team activities, making sure that when they do come back, they do not feel like they have missed out on important team bonding.
“You try to put yourself in their shoes,” said Esposito. “It’s hard to not be able to practice, or be in the locker room. You don’t get to be in on some of the jokes that develop. We’ve have been collectively trying to keep including them in things, because they are still a part of this team. They will come back and we want them to be a part of this team.”
She also seeks chances to work with Northeastern’s newest players and help them make the transition to college hockey. “I like being able to use my experiences to help other players,” said Esposito. “Right now I’m playing (on the same line) with Haley Scamurra, and I like being able to tell her the little things about playing college hockey.”
One of the qualities Esposito tries to impart on new teammates about college hockey is the importance of team and relishing the time you get to spend with each other. She also recognizes that that is something she might not get to experience again when she graduates in May.
“There is a girl who took a few years off from hockey who now comes back and skates with us sometimes” said Esposito. “She always tells us, ‘You never really get this type of environment and team aspect ever again.’ That’s one of the things that gets me upset, that I won’t have a team or these friends around.”
To Esposito, team is something she will do anything for, and as shown during her injuries, teammates are those who will stick with you no matter what. “Even though you might get in a fight with them one day, you can go to them about anything the next day.”
It is team spirit that gets Esposito and her fellow Huskies up for playing in both the Beanpot and Hockey East tournaments. As they prepare to try for a three-peat in this month’s Women’s Beanpot, Esposito believes her team’s roller coaster early season is less than indicative of what they can do on those first two Tuesdays in February.
“It’s literally anyone’s tournament,” said Esposito. “You just have to win two games and you’ve won the tournament. Whenever you are in a tournament, you feel like you are especially playing for each other. You know that that extra little bit you give could win it. You know that every little thing you do could be all that you need to win.”
While going up against three nationally ranked squads in Harvard, Boston College and Boston University could be daunting, Flint agrees that Esposito and her teammates have a knack for showing up in those special games.
“They all understand the significance. This year it is going to be difficult, but last year everyone counted us out and we were able to win,” said Flint. “I tell them that anything can happen.”
Esposito would love to add another Beanpot title to her accomplishments, but who knows — she might have other chances to earn one as a coach.
“I’ve always considered coaching hockey,” admitted the history major and criminal justice minor. “I’ve also considered going to law school, so I’ll probably end up doing one of those things.”
Those around her feel that coaching could very well be where Esposito ends up, which is fitting given what she wants her legacy as a Northeastern hockey player to be.
“I hope that people know me as a player who wants to learn everything about the game that I can.”