Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Before Legein, There Was Oreskovich

I'm sure we all remember the outrage that some people had over Stefan Legein's decision to quit hockey all of sudden in August 2008. It shocked Blue Jacket fans, and the story was broken by my good friend and colleague Bethany at the time. But before Stefan Legein shocked the new NHL world and the word had spread like wildfire on the Internet, there were others before him who simply walked away from the game at a time that seemed almost too good to be true. One such man will wear the antlers for a portion of the year this season as Victor Oreskovich will start the season with the AHL's Manitoba Moose. And yes, Oreskovich quit hockey shortly after starting his professional career with the Colorado Avalanche with little to no fanfare of his decision.

Oreskovich was a solid player with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. He had put up decent numbers with the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers in 2003-04 before jumping to the NCAA's Notre Dame Fighting Irish to continue both his education and his hockey career. However, after nine games in 2005-06 with the Fighting Irish, Oreskovich jumped to Kitchener where he could kickstart his career after wallowing at Notre Dame.

He had been noticed, though, by one NHL team. The Colorado Avalanche liked the work he did with the Green Bay Gamblers, and they selected him in the second-round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft at 55th overall. There was hope that the 6'3" winger would develop into a scoring, speedy forward who could boast some size along the boards. The plan got derailed, though, when the Avalanche assigned Oreskovich to the AHL. Oreskovich, however, was finished.

“At the time, I was a little burned out from hockey,” Oreskovich admitted to Jim Bender of The Winnipeg Sun. “I didn’t plan to come back to the game, but I took a step away and it made me realize how much I missed it... I finished all my schooling and it made me realize the importance of hockey in my life.”

Oreskovich had quit the game he grew up playing in the midst of his young career. He went back to South Bend, Indiana to finish his Finance degree at Notre Dame University, turning his back on the game he loved to play. He worked in a mall while working his way through his degree, but began to feel that itch to play again.

Knowing he needed a break, Oreskovich called his former Kitchener Rangers coach Peter DeBoer in 2009. DeBoer, who had been hired to coach the Florida Panthers, went to Randy Sexson to see if his former player could get a shot on a tryout with the Panthers. DeBoer liked what he saw, but assigned the former OHL Ranger to the AHL's Rochester Americans for a little more seasoning. He had, after all, been out of the game for two years.

Oreskovich took the opportunity his former coach had given him and ran with it. He played 34 games with Rochester before being called up to help the Panthers. And he never saw Rochester again last season. Oreskovich spent 50 games with the Panthers, scoring two goals and adding four assists - nothing to be overly optimistic about, but quite an achievement for a man who one year earlier was sitting in a university classroom.

After being traded to the Vancouver Canucks this season, Oreskovich knew that his shot at making the NHL club was long. The Canucks boast talent on all four lines, and head coach Alain Vigneault decided to send Oreskovich to the Moose where he can play with energy and chip in a few goals along the way.

"It was surprising but, at the same time, I was pretty excited," he said of the trade to Vancouver. "Florida’s a good organization and they were great to me, but I think Vancouver is a special spot and Manitoba is one of the best AHL franchises out there. When it happened, I was thrilled, I really was."

Honestly, I'm thrilled to have Victor Oreskovich playing for the Moose this season. The Moose have had some very skilled wingers before in Jason Jaffray, Lee Goren, and Alexandre Burrows, but Oreskovich brings both size and skill to the table. The Moose need a big-bodied winger who can cut to the net hard, and it looks like Oreskovich might be that player.

“He’s had a good camp,” head coach Claude Noel said. “I like the way he works and let’s see how he does here. My understanding is he’s an energy guy who has the size. I watched him in Vancouver and I liked him a lot. He was strong on the puck, reliable defensively, played with some energy, played with some physicality so, is that what we’re going to see?”

I hope so. If Oreskovich can play with the up-tempo, never-say-die attitude he brings to life, he'll be a fan favorite in Manitoba.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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