NEWARK — For those who played with, coached or lined up alongside him, Josh Esformes left a lasting impression that has lived on long after he left the ice.
Esformes, an avid, life-long hockey player whose career began at age 6 as a house-league player at South Mountain Arena in West Orange, N.J., was cut short in 2010 in an early-morning car accident that took his life while on his way to open a rink he managed in Somerset.
He was just 23-years old.
“Josh was a great role model,” friend and teammate Justin Hudacko said. “Not only was he an awesome person, he was a great coach and a great player — he was a leader.”
Esformes quickly gained a passion for the game moving through the New Jersey Devils’ youth hockey system as a mite, squirt, peewee, bantam and midget, playing for various select teams. He attended Seton Hall Prep before playing for and graduating from St. Peter’s Prep of Jersey City, registering 11 goals and 26 points his senior season while skating on a line with Gio Capodanno and John Hanrahan for coach Joe Maione’s Marauders in 2005.
His career really took off at Rutgers University, for whom he captained while skating for the D-I club hockey team for two years, recording more than 100 points while earning ACHA First Team All-State and Academic All-America honors in 2007 and 2008.
His untimely passing hit the New Jersey hockey community hard and in 2012 the Josh Esformes Memorial Game and scholarship in his name was created to assist college-bound scholar/athletes who demonstrate achievement through hard work and determination both on the ice and in the classroom.
Now in its seventh season, with special thanks to Hockey in New Jersey, this year’s recipient’s are Samantha Branco and Ashley Junquiero.
“I’m just really grateful for the opportunity,” Branco, an honor student at Newark East Side who will attend Rutgers next fall to study Psychology and English, said. “Hockey has had such a great impact on my life including this scholarship — it’s amazing.”
“It’s an honor to be here,” Junquiero, a member of the National Honor Society who will go on to study Nutrition and Food Science at Montclair State, said. “Hockey in New Jersey has been a great family. They’ve taken me in and to give back… They’ve drawn me in and a lot of families together. I’m honored for the experience and grateful to be a part of it.”
Previous scholarship recipients include Lexi Montez (Montclair State), Luis Angamarca (Fairleigh Dickinson), Joseph Pandini (NJIT), Jaredtt Perry-Hamilton (Centenary University) and Kevin Lopez (Princeton).
Lopez, the original recipient in 2012, returned to show his appreciation to the men and women that have helped turn the Esformes tragedy into an annual event that breathes new life into the next generation of hockey players.
“A lot of people just see this as a hockey program but for me it’s always a family I can come back to,” said Lopez, who has continued his academic career at Fordham. “It’s just great — not only for the program but for the Esformes family, having them here with us, healing and growing alongside with us is just incredible — we’re just honored to be here with them every year.
“There’s a lot of maturing and self-reflection, but along the way one of the things I’ve kept close to me is the values I learned in hockey,” Lopez said. “Perseverance — not giving up, just chipping away at it… You may not be the tallest, the smartest, but hard work at the end of the day will pay off.”
Josh would be 31-years old today, his mother, Susan, said.
“The people that run hockey in Newark do a great job bringing kids in and help them understand how great it is, and the fact this scholarship in my son’s name is able to help these kids go on to college is really special,” Susan Esformes said. “Hockey is that kind of sport — people give their time, their talent, their ice — it really means a lot.
“If my son was here he’d be so proud. He’s not here but we’re glad to think of him and honor him this way.”
On the ice, Mike DeRita’s goal, with 2:27 remaining in regulation, snapped the tie and sent Team White to a 6-4 victory over Team Red at the Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark.
“This group of guys, this game, it just shows the love we have for him and his family. This is our seventh year and we’re still going strong,” Hudacko, who added an empty-net goal with seconds remaining to seal the win, said. “The scholarship recipients, we’re adding new people every year. It keeps getting bigger and bigger. It just shows the love we had for him and still have.”
Esformes, who was the first Rutgers player invited to the inaugural ACHA All-Star game in 2008, had his number 29 jersey retired, which now hangs in the Knights’ home arena. Josh graduated from Rutgers University in 2010 with degrees in Philosophy and Economics.
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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