No opportunity to play at home?
No problem, just head down the road.
That is what Sault Ste. Marie product Jordan Ritchie is doing as a 2001 birth year defenseman with the Espanola Express of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
The free agent defender had been out skating with his hometown Soo Thunderbirds prior to the start of this 2020-2021 NOJHL season.
But when Express president and general manager Jason Rapcewicz offered to sign him, Ritchie packed his bags and headed 140 miles down the highway from the Sault to Espanola.
Since then, the 6-foot-1, 195 pound Ritchie has played in nine regular season games for Espanola and takes a regular shift on the Express blue line. He spent the 2019-2020 season in the NOJHL with the now dormant Elliot Lake Wildcats.
First year Express head coach Brent Hughes certainly likes what he has seen from Ritchie through nine games on the right track in Espanola.
In fact, Hughes said he loves what the rugged defender brings to the Express.
“I love Jordan Ritchie,” Hughes began. “I swear that even if he wasn’t wearing shin pads that he would be out there blocking shots for us. He is a warrior with an unbelievable work ethic and his determination is a great example to the younger kids on our team.
“He has been an unbelievable addition to our team and I simply can’t say enough about Jordan. I love him,” Hughes stated emphatically. “He is a team first player with a great attitude.”
Ritchie, in turn, is enjoying playing in Espanola and for Hughes as his head coach.
“He is a good coach who gets the best out of his players,” Ritchie said of the 38-year old Hughes, who has the recent experience of three straight winning seasons as an assistant coach with the Cape Breton Eagles of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League.
Ritchie added that Hughes is big on discipline and accountability.
“He holds us accountable but at the same time he helps out when we are struggling,” Ritchie told Hockey News North. “We watch a lot of video and he gets the defensive group together. A lot of what he teaches is mental stuff and fitting into his system.”
Ritchie is one of two Sault boys playing for Espanola.
The other is 2001 birth year forward Cole Delarosbil. Delarosbil, who is in his second season in Espanola, has three goals, two assists, five points and like Ritchie, has skated in nine of the 10 games that the Express has played thus far this season.
Espanola has a record of 4-4-2 in 10 games with the Express now on holiday break until January, when the 2020-2021 regular season schedule is slated to resume.