Two seasoned scouts — both based in Sault Ste. Marie — and a coach with major junior experience represent a trio of newcomers who have hopped aboard the Espanola Express during the summer.
Brad Boyer and Chad Vresk have brought their scouting skills and command to the Express while Brent Hughes has taken over as the head coach in Espanola with proficiency gained from three straight winning seasons as an assistant coach with the Cape Breton Eagles of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League.
To be sure, Espanola is out to try to make further gains in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League in 2020-2021 after making the West Division playoffs in 2019-2020 for the first time since its inaugural 2015-2016 campaign as the Express.
BRAD AND CHAD
These are scouts with time on their side. These are scouts who put in the time and effort.
The aforementioned duo of Brad Boyer and Chad Vresk have been an NOJHL scouting tandem since 2006 when they worked for the Blind River Beavers.
Since then, the 54-year old Boyer and the 46-year old Vresk have had two separate scouting gigs with the Cochrane Crunch and were part of its 2018 NOJHL championship team.
They also had a second go-round with Blind River and were involved with a championship team with the erstwhile Elliot Lake Bobcats of the Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League.
The two close friends have been a scouting team every year except the 2016-2017 season when Boyer scouted for the NOJHL champion Soo Thunderbirds.
Now, in their new post with Espanola as Sault based scouts for northern Ontario, Boyer and Vresk are reporting to Express president and general manager Jason Rapcewicz.
And as Boyer recently told Hockey News North, “there are a few good players that we are hoping to get to Espanola for the coming season.”
NEWS ON HUGHES
This ranks as a coaching coup for the Express.
Well traveled and experienced as a coach and a player at high levels of the game, the aforementioned Brent Hughes has taken over from Dave Clancy as the new head coach in Espanola.
Among his coaching gigs, the 38-year Hughes, as previously noted, spent three seasons as an assistant with the Cape Breton Eagles of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League from 2016 until 2019, posting a winning record each time before his contract and that of head coach and general manager Marc Andre Dumont were not renewed.
Now, in going to Espanola and the NOJHL, Hughes told Hockey News North that he heard about the opening from an old teammate of his, John Dean, who is now the coach of the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
From there, Hughes got in touch with the aforementioned Jason Rapcewicz, who is the owner, president and general manager of the NOJHL Express.
“After talking to John (Dean), Jason (Rapcewicz) and I had a few conversations and we came to an agreement for me to come up north and coach the Espanola Express,” Hughes relayed to Hockey News North. “I am really excited for this opportunity. I have heard a lot of good things about the NOJHL and the Espanola franchise.”
Hughes has spent a lifetime in the game.
Prior to being an assistant coach with Cape Breton in the QMJHL, the Toronto native was also a player/coach overseas at the pro level for the Scotland-based Dundee Stars.
Among other stops, he has also coached in the minor pro ranks and with the North York Rangers of the Ontario Jr. Hockey League and in the AAA midget ranks of the second to none, Greater Toronto Hockey League.
In total, Hughes played nine years of pro hockey in North America and Europe after having suited up for the Peterborough Petes and Brampton (now North Bay) Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League.
Hughes heads to Espanola to take the helm of the small market Express, which made the playoffs in 2019-2020 for the first time since its inaugural 2015-2016 campaign.
Espanola had a record of 17-34-5 in 2019-2020 in what was Rapcewicz’s first season as owner, president and general manager.
The Express head coaching position, now occupied by Hughes, became vacant when Rapcewicz and Clancy could not agree on terms for a new contract.
And Rapcewicz has had plenty to say about the hiring of Hughes.
“Our organization is excited to have been in a position to hire Brent, who brings a wealth of knowledge for the game with him to Espanola,” Rapcewicz told Hockey News North.
“I feel like we are on the same page and have the same goals and expectations for this upcoming season. Brent is driven and motivated to help us keep building our success on and off the ice in Espanola,” Rapcewicz added.
Meanwhile, former NOJHL coach and OHL scout Beau Moyer, who has coached against Hughes in the GTHL, called his hiring by Espanola an “amazing hire.
“Brent is going to help Espanola both as a recruiter and a coach who develops players,” Moyer said of Hughes.
Of the veteran players who have committed to return to Espanola for the coming season, one is hard working winger Cole Delarosbil from the Sault.
Known for his high compete level as a later developing skater, the 6-foot-1, 190 pound Delarosbil — who has a 2001 birth date — netted six goals, three assists, nine points in just 27 games for the Express in a 2019-2020 rookie season that was hampered by a broken ankle.
Delarosbil has steadily climbed the hockey ladder over the past several seasons, going from the AA Root River Rangers of the Sault Major Hockey Association to the St. Mary’s Knights high school squad to the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Midget Hockey League.
Not to put the pressure on him but Delarosbil has the character and ability to be a leader on and off the ice as a second year skater on the Express for the 2020-2021 NOJHL season.
He also has skill, size and a determination that could make him an impact player in the NOJHL.
2001 birth year center James Eng is being counted on to bring energy to Espanola for the upcoming season.
Hailing from Mississauga, Ontario, the 5-foot-11, 170 pound Eng netted six goals, 15 assists, 21 points in 56 games for the French River Rapids as an NOJHL rookie in 2019-2020.
Eng was acquired by Espanola president and general manager Jason Rapcewicz in a trade made earlier this summer.
“James is a gifted forward who has the ability to play in a top six role,” Rapcewicz said of Eng. “His exceptional work ethic, energy and dedication to development will be the key to his success this coming season.