It conveys a great deal about Dave Clancy that his peers voted him coach of the year in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League despite the fact that the Espanola Express posted a record well below the .500 mark.
But while Espanola’s regular season record for the 2019-2020 campaign was a rather modest 17-34-5 for 39 points, it was enough to steer the Express into the playoffs for the first time since 2015-2016, which was its debut term in the NOJHL.
The 2019-2020 season was Clancy’s second with Espanola. In his first season, the 2018-2019 campaign, Espanola had a record of 10-43-3 which, while shabby, was a marked improvement over an abysmal 2-52-2 mark from 2017-2018.
At any rate, suffice to say that NOJHL success has not been easy to come by in small-market Espanola, a quiet Spanish River town of just under 5,000, located about 45 miles west of Sudbury.
But with Clancy at the helm as coach and director of hockey operations and local product Jason Rapcewicz overseeing the franchise as president and general manager, the Express took a good right turn in 2019-2020.
To be sure, one NOJHL rival who is rather impressed with the work done by Clancy and Rapcewicz is Bruno Bragagnolo, the long-time president and general manager of the Soo Eagles.
“Dave Clancy did a great job with that team,” Bragagnolo began. “Espanola was a real tough team to play against. And Jason Rapcewicz is a good guy who runs a first class operation in Espanola.
“If you ask me, Espanola is in great hands with Dave Clancy and Jason Rapcewicz,” Bragagnolo added.
Meanwhile, the no-nonsense yet easy-to-like Clancy, who has an NOJHL championship on his resume from an early coaching gig with the erstwhile Sudbury Junior Wolves — and is a former scout with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League — likes the track that the Express is on.
Reflecting on the 2019-2020 NOJHL campaign, Clancy told Hockey News North that the Express was “looking to build off of the 2018-2019 season where we took steps in rebuilding the organization both on the ice and off it.
“The staff is extremely pleased with the direction we see the team heading, first with how the community is now supporting the team and are getting involved in all aspects of the team.
“Our fan base will only get bigger as more local people become involved and we make it a great destination for players to come and play in this great community,” Clancy added.
As for the Express on-ice product and effort, Clancy waxed more positive philosophy.
“This (2019-2020) season we made good strides in becoming a team where the players felt they could win on any night and would never give up until the final buzzer.
“They were a close knit team who showed up to work every day and we were extremely pleased with the effort they gave us.
“And Matthias Salem had an exceptional season playing for the Express, he was the leader both on and off the ice. I believe the upside to this player is amazing and I look forward to see where he plays next,” Clancy said of the graduating, NOJHL’s top defenseman, who finished fourth in league scoring with 16 goals, 50 assists, 66 points.
“The future of the Express looks promising,” Clancy summed up.
To be sure, the Express can return the majority of its 2019-2020 roster for the 2020-2021 campaign, which is a group that includes migrants from all over the United States and Canada — and no less than nine players from various northern Ontario towns.
Among the northern boys who stood out for the Express over the course of the 2019-2020 season were a pair of 2003 birth-year, rookie forwards from Sudbury who were Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft picks in 2019 — Cameron Walker (ninth round, Kingston Frontenacs) and Bradley Brunet (13th round, Niagara Ice Dogs.)
Walker hit for 11 goals, 15 assists, 26 points for Espanola during the regular season while Brunet chipped in with 8-4-12 totals.
Then there are a pair of older rookie forwards with 2001 birth dates who are seasoned veterans of the Great North Midget Hockey League — Sault Ste. Marie product Cole Delarosbil and Timmins native Brennen Martel.
Delarosbil and Martel are also eligible to return Espanola next season as are both Express goalies, Joel Rainville and Carson Boutin.
Like Walker, Brunet, Delarosbil and Martel, Rainville (Sturgeon Falls) and Boutin (Iroquois Falls) also hail from northern Ontario towns.