A record of 4-0-1 over its past five outings has brought the Espanola Express to the .500 level with a 7-7-1 mark after 15 games of the 2021-2022 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League season.
Espanola’s latest win, a 7-3 take down of the Elliot Lake Red Wings, was highlighted by a dazzling five assist performance from Express defenseman Caleb Resch.
The 20-year old Resch, along with big 20-year old Ben Couvier, were acquired by Espanola in an off season trade with the Kam River Fighting Walleye of the Superior International Hockey League. Resch now has one goal, 12 assists, 13 points for the Express from his blue line post.
Espanola general manager and coach Jason Rapcewicz, who is in his first season in the dual role, likes the improvement the Express has shown since the start of the season.
“We are on a good stretch right now,” Rapcewicz told Hockey News North. “We got off to a bit of a slow start but we have put in the work to get better. The boys come to the rink every day ready to work hard and improve.
“We want to create a winning mindset here and make sure that we get better every day. We want to challenge each other to work hard and push to win hockey games. We are fortunate to have a good group of talented young players who are slowly finding their groove. Ty McHutchion is on fire and has found the net 11 times as a 16-year old rookie. Ty works hard and has a natural ability to find the net. He has a great positive attitude and competes every night.
“Owen Harris, who plays both forward and defence for us is another young dynamic 16-year old player with great vision and an ability to create things from nothing sometimes. Kyle Caron is a talented 2004 born player who is coming along, he just needs to be a little more confident in his decision making but has the ability to be a high end forward in this league,” Rapcewicz added.
Older, veteran players have also stood out on the Express lane, said Rapcewicz.
“Our returning players, (forwards) Josh Boucher and James Eng and (defenseman) Nicholas Toffoli have really stepped up their game this year. Eng seems faster and more confident, Toffoli worked on his skating and is a definite contributor on the back end. Boucher is working hard to contribute offensively and play a strong 200 foot game.
“And I am extremely pleased with (the aforementioned) Caleb Resch and Ben Couvier who we acquired in the trade with the Kam River. Resch came with big expectations and has not disappointed. Resch is logging big minutes and has been an offensive contributor while Couvier has been a great leader on and off the ice. He has been great with the younger guys, helping them adapt to junior hockey … he sticks up for his teammates and plays a no nonsense game of hockey,” Rapcewicz pointed out.
And there are others who Rapcewicz is impressed with.
“Josh Rumolo and Adam Shillinglaw have also been a welcome addition this year to our back end. And up front, the speed and penalty killing ability of Kobe Braham and Todd McBain have kept us in hockey games and they have contributed on the score sheet short handed. The addition of Giovanni Perillo from the Fredricton Red Wings (of the Maritime Hockey League) has also been huge. He is a big bodied power forward has really stepped up for us.
“And the final piece that has allowed us to be the recipients of success is rookie goaltender Patrick Boivin. He has been outstanding this year for us and I believe is one of the top three goalies in the league,” Rapcewicz said in praise of the Blind River product.
Despite the obvious improvement, Rapcewicz is not getting too far ahead of himself.
“It is still a long road to the end of the season … we are taking it one game at a time and putting a lot of attention to playing more disciplined and tightening up defensively. It’s the best start we have had in our seven seasons in the league and I think that if we can stay focused and dial in every night, we will have a lot of success this season,” Rapcewicz noted.
“I think we have a little bit of everything in our line up. Besides the others that I have mentioned, we are young with Liam Bridgeman, Jack Thor, Ryan Rubic and Garreth Sturgess up front and Logan James and Landon Sanford on the back end. We will definitely have some bumps in the road and some adversity to face. How we respond is what will dictate our fate,” summed up Rapcewicz.