Jason Rapcewicz, who is the president and general manager of the Espanola Express of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, says he has and will — along with his scouts — search far and wide for players.
But as the owner and operator of the small market Espanola franchise, Rapcewicz noted that he takes particular pride in having as many capable northern Ontario players on the Express as he can.
And among those who have now committed to board the Express for the 2020-2021 NOJHL season are three returning players with northern roots — forwards Cole Delarosbil and Brennen Martel and goalie Carson Boutin.
“We try to make it a priority to have us many northern kids as we can,” the 43-year old Rapcewicz relayed to Hockey News North. “If there is a kid from the north who can play, who is a good fit and — just as importantly — makes the commitment to play in Espanola, we will always have room for him.
“That will always happen as long as I have any say around here,” Rapcewicz said evenly.
Which is why Rapcewicz is happy to welcome the anticipated return of the northern trio of Delarosbil (Sault Ste. Marie), Martel (Timmins) and Boutin (Iroquois Falls) to Espanola ahead of the 2020-2021 season.
“They are three northern kids of good character who helped us in different ways last season … and we are very happy that they have committed to us again for the upcoming season,” said Rapcewicz.
“We want players who are committed and who want to play in Espanola and the fact that they (Delarosbil, Martel and Boutin) are from the north is an added bonus,” Rapcewicz added.
To be sure, it can be said that the hockey train is slowly but surely starting to chug along the Express tracks in the Spanish River town of Espanola, which is located just off the junction of Highway 17 and Highway 6 and is home to less than 5,000 residents.
For starters, the Express had a turnaround term under Rapcewicz and second-year head coach Dave Clancy in 2019-2020 and made the playoffs in the NOJHL for the first time since the 2015-2016 campaign.
The 2019-2020 season was the first for Rapcewicz as president, general manager and sole owner of the small market Espanola franchise.
As for the northern trio of players who say they plan on returning to Espanola for the 2020-2021 season, Rapcewicz likes what they bring to the Express.
Delarosbil stands in at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds while Martel is 5-foot-8, 150 pounds — and both have have 2001 birth dates. The 6-foot, 185 pound Boutin, meanwhile, was born in 2002.
Of note, all three are graduates of the Great North Midget Hockey League.
Delarosbil played for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds, Martel suited up for the Timmins Majors and Boutin tended twine for both the Sudbury Minor Wolves and Kapuskasing Flyers
Delarosbil, whose initial season on the Express was derailed by a broken ankle that he suffered in January, came through with six goals, three assists, nine points in just 27 outings as an NOJHL rookie.
Martel, meanwhile, 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 as an energetic, two-way puck hound.
“As forwards they have different skills but what they have in common is their compete level,” Rapcewicz said in praise of Delarosbil and Martel.
As for Boutin, the young goalie 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.
Boutin, who had a 4-7-3 record with a 4.32 goals against average and .895 save percentage after joining the Express in December of last year, matured on and off the ice, said Rapcewicz.
“He came in and did a nice job for us as one of our two goalies,” Rapcewicz said of Boutin, who faced a whopping 636 shots in 921 minutes of play for Espanola, which ended up in fifth place in the West Division of the NOJHL.
“Carson got better and, you know what, he worked harder as the season went on and we look forward to his expected return to Espanola for the coming season,” Rapcewicz added.
The Express improved from a 10-43-3 record in 2018-2019 to a 17-34-5 mark in 2019-2020, which was an increase of 16 points in the standings.
“We would like to be able to try to keep building on what we as an organization started last season,” said Rapcewicz. “It is all about team work.”
Meanwhile, Rapcewicz — who is employed as a crane operator at Algoma Steel and commutes back and forth to work from his Espanola home to Sault Ste. Marie — is spending his days off trying to secure additional player commitments preparatory to the next NOJHL season.
Besides the aforementioned threesome of Delarosbil, Martel and Boutin, Rapcewicz hopes to soon confirm the return of a number of other veterans as well as some newcomers for the 2020-2021 season.
One rookie who has made a commitment to play in Espanola for the upcoming season is Connor Lemieux, a lanky goalie with a 2002 birth date.
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.