For the first time since the 2015-2016 campaign — which was its first season in existence as a franchise — the Espanola Express has qualified for a playoff spot in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
With just a few weeks to play on the regular season schedule, Espanola has secured the fifth and final playoff position in the West Division of the NOJHL while earning a reputation as a hard-working, tough team to play against.
Bruno Bragagnolo, the long-time general manager of West Division rival Soo Eagles, calls the Express a “really, really hard team to place against. Dave Clancy has done a real good job coaching that team. Any time you play Espanola, you can expect a hard-fought battle. They have wins against some of the better teams in the league.”
Coached by aforementioned, grizzled NOJHL bench boss Dave Clancy and with Jason Rapcewicz in his first season as president and general manager, Espanola has made good use of a roster from nearby, far and wide.
Besides boasting nine players from various northern Ontario towns — including both of its goalies, Joel Rainville, who hails from Sturgeon Falls, and Carson Boutin, who is a product of Iroquois Falls — Clancy and Rapcewicz have brought in talent from southern and eastern Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, as well from the American states of Minnesota, New York, New Hampshire and California.
On the ice, while Espanola is well below the .500 mark with a record of 14-28-4, the win total is the most in this, the fifth season, since the launch of the Express.
Throughout its existence, the Express has been well supported by fans and advertisers. Average home attendance this season is about 275 fans per outing.
Espanola is a town of just under 5,000 and is located about 40 miles west of downtown Sudbury at the junction of Highway 17 and Highway 6.
PHOTO: Espanola Express goalie Carson Boutin makes a save in recent NOJHL action against the Elliot Lake Wildcats.