One by one, from here and there, passengers are boarding the Express.
The number of players — returning and incoming — who have committed to the Espanola Express of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League for the upcoming season is now in double digits.
Rather impressively, Espanola president and general manager Jason Rapcewicz currently has commitments from 10 players to be on the Express train to the Spanish River town once the 2020-2021 season begins.
Rapcewicz and the Express are out to build on a 2019-2020 season in which Espanola made the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-2016 term.
Following is the list of players, by position, who have thus far indicated that they will be returning to Espanola for the 2020-2021 campaign.
Carson Boutin. Hailing from the northeastern Ontario town of Iroquois Falls, Boutin joined the Express from the Komoka Kings of the Greater Ontario Jr. Hockey League via the Cochrane Crunch of the NOJHL during the 2019-2020 season. He had a 4-7-3 record with a 4.32 goals against average and .895 save percentage after hopping on the Express.
Connor Lemieux. Lemieux tended goal for the major midget Thunder Bay Kings of Hockey Northwestern Ontario during the 2019-2020 season and is poised to form a net tandem with Boutin in Espanola for the 2020-2021 campaign.
Robert Brisson. An Eastern Ontario product from the town of Embrun, Brisson appeared in 26 games for Espanola in 2019-2020 and had three goals, seven assists, 10 points from his blue line position. Brisson also has 16 games of prior NOJHL experience with the Rayside Balfour Canadians.
Jackson Legro. All the way from the American state of New Hampshire, Legro netted two goals, 11 assists, 13 points in 35 games for Espanola in 2019-2020 after being obtained from the Blind River Beavers. He has a future commitment to play at Lebanon Valley College — a Division 3, National Collegiate Athletic Association school — for the 2021-2022 season.
William Whelton. Playing in 53 games as a 16-year old rookie for the Express this past season, Whelton managed a goal, five assists, six points while also seeing duty on the forward lines. He is from Whitby, Ontario.
Josh Boucher. From the Greater Sudbury town of Lively, Boucher came through with 10 goals, 16 assists, 26 points in 55 games for the Express in 2019-2020.
Cole Delarosbil. A Sault Ste. Marie product, Delarosbil — whose initial season on the Express was derailed by a broken ankle that he suffered in January — produced six goals, three assists, nine points in just 27 outings as an NOJHL rookie.
James Eng. A product of the Greater Toronto Area and acquired earlier this month in a trade with French River, Eng netted six goals, 15 assists, 21 points in 56 NOJHL games for the Rapids last season.
Brennen Martel. Another northern Ontario native — he is from the gritty hockey town of Timmins — Martel got into 37 of Espanola’s 56 regular season games as a first-year NOJHLer in 2019-2020 and contributed three goals, three assists, six points.
Colton Wiacek. Wiacek spent the full 2019-2020 season with the St. Thomas Stars of the Greater Ontario Jr. Hockey League. In 63 games with St. Thomas over the past two seasons, the 6-foot-1, 200 pound Wiacek produced 10 goals, eight assists, 18 points.