Bill Vanderleest is an anomaly of sorts among goalie coaches. When he is not at home working with the net minders of the Sault College Cougars women’s team, Vanderleest is travelling 280 miles round trip for once a week practices as the goalie coach for the Espanola Paper Kings of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
The ageless Vanderleest has been tutoring goalies for a number of years at high end levels of the amateur hockey game. And while he is in his first season as the goalie coach in Espanola, Vanderleest is not new to the NOJHL, having spent the previous decade in the same position with the Soo Eagles.
Simply put, Vanderleest loves hockey and the goalie position. Just ask him. And showing no signs of slowing down — he continues to work in the real estate and property management field in Sault Ste. Marie past the age of 70 — he finds the time to work with both the Sault College women’s team and the goalies of the Espanola NOJHLers.
Just as he is appreciated by Sault College head coach Brianne Shunock, the work ethic and travel commitment of Vanderleest is very much valued by Espanola president and head coach Jason Rapcewicz.
“Billy V is awesome,” Rapcewicz exclaimed to Hockey News North when asked about having Vanderleest as the Paper Kings goalie reach. “Our organization has been lucky to retain the services of a veteran of the junior hockey world like Bill.
“His experience and pedigree makes our program that much better,” Rapcewicz added in further praise of Vanderleest. “Bill’s commitment and dedication has allowed our organization to be able to offer another dimension that a lot of small town programs can’t acquire due to logistical barriers. Bill is here every week to work with our goalies and his travel time and the day he puts in to get to Espanola and back home (to Sault Ste. Marie) is absolutely amazing in this day and age.”
Meanwhile, when asked about his travel and time consuming commitment to Espanola and travelling back and forth to tutor the goalies of the NOJHL Paper Kings, Vanderleest simply shrugs his shoulders.
“I love what I do,” he relayed. “And it certainly helps that (Rapcewicz) as the owner and the head coach not only appreciates me but he runs a really good program, especially as a small market team in the NOJHL. Rapper and (Paper Kings general manager) Marc (Gagnon) give me the freedom to do my thing and work with our goalies. It is really nice to have their trust and to be a part of the Espanola franchise in the NOJHL.”
To be sure, Espanola has as good as a goaltending tandem as there is in the NOJHL with 20-year old Jake Marois and 17-year old Andrew Gaulton. Marois is in his last season of junior eligibility while Gaulton has been tagged as the goalie of the future for the Sudbury Wolves, who took the big puck stopper in the second round of the 2022 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.
“They are both great to work with,” Vanderleest said of Marois and Gaulton. “They both have something to prove in different ways. Jake wants to finish his junior career in style and go and play college hockey while Andrew has his sights set on playing in the OHL.”
Espanola also employs a third goalie in Luka Straser, an 18-year old who headed to the NOJHL this season all the way from California. Straser has played in only one game as the Paper Kings third string goalie but his commitment and dedication is noted and appreciated by Vanderleest.
“To leave home in California to come all the way to northern Ontario and to a small town like Espanola says a lot about Luka,'” said Vanderleest. “And the fact that he is our no. 3 goalie and accepts his role and never complains just says that much more about him. He never had a goalie coach before this season and I am doing everything that I possibly can to instruct him and to help him out. Hopefully he develops enough that he can earn a full time position with us or some other junior team next season.”