Paper Kings are in
March 6, 2023
Coming through with multiple clutch victories over higher seeded teams has culminated in a well earned Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League playoff spot for the upstart Espanola Paper Kings.
To be sure, February proved to be a productive month for the Paper Kings with four improbable wins over two division rivals that are well ahead in the standings. In the midst of being in a frantic race with the Soo Eagles for fourth place in the West Division of the NOJHL, Espanola skated to two wins over both the first place Sudbury Cubs and third place Soo Thunderbirds during the month of February, impressive victories that really enhanced the Paper Kings playoff push.
The Paper Kings then clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division by taking three of four points from the Powassan Voodoos on the first weekend of March. Powassan is a very solid third in the East Division.
Making the playoffs in an extremely tough West Division in 2022-2023 follows a 2021-2022 season in which Espanola finished in last place with 30 points from a record of 13-31-4 in what was a shortened NOJHL schedule. This time around, with five games to play in the regular season, the Paper Kings sport a tidy record of 27-21-5 for 59 points.
Along with Paper Kings owner and head coach Jason Rapcewicz, first-year general manager Marc Gagnon is an architect of the transformation from last season to this one in Espanola.
“As an organization and the GM, I am very proud of the work that the entire team has done since early August,” Gagnon relayed to Hockey News North. “To finally see that x (for clinching a playoff spot) beside Espanola in the standings is very rewarding. Every team plays for this time of year. Saying that, we are looking forward to the playoffs … and we will keep working as the playoffs start and beyond.”
Gagnon made special mention of the team effort in Espanola.
“There are so many moving parts on a hockey team and for us it has come together nicely from staff to the players, all with one goal in mind. The players have really bought into Jason’s coaching and the atmosphere is a good one in the dressing room. We look forward to the first round of playoffs,” Gagnon noted.
As it has been an overall team production in Espanola, there are certainly the key players who have led the way, beginning in goal with Jake Marois, on the blue line with Spencer Horgan and Josh Rumolo and up front featuring Lucas Signoretti, Devin Mauro and Atley Gringorten, among others.
The 19-year old Marois has been a saviour between the pipes. Acquired from the Sudbury Cubs in a summer time trade, Marois has been a workhorse for the Paper Kings after missing the first six weeks of the season on the injury list. Marois has a record of 16-14-2 with a 3.37 goals against average and .918 save percentage while facing more than his share of shots.
Meanwhile, Horgan and Rumolo have put up big points from the blue line. The 17-year old Horgan has 13 goals, 26 assists, 39 points while the 19-year old Rumolo has 8-30-38 numbers.
As for Signoretti and Mauro, they are a pair of small but speedy 18-year old forwards with Ontario Hockey League experience. Signoretti has lit it up to the tune of 37 goals, 33 assists, 70 points in just 35 games for Espanola since joining the Paper Kings from the OHL’s Erie Otters. And Mauro has been an impact player for Espanola since being assigned to the Paper Kings from the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves in the new year. In just nine games with Espanola, Mauro has 10 goals, 10 assists, 20 points.
Over to the 18-year old Gringorten, the Sudbury native has turned into an offensive threat in his second NOJHL season and is closing in on the 20 goal mark. He is also formerly of the Sudbury Cubs and is in Espanola via trade from the ’21-22 season.
Espanola has also played through a series of injuries this season, including several that have prompted the use of affiliate players from the Great North Under 18 Hockey League. The aforementioned Marc Gagnon, as the Paper Kings GM, has done a good job in forming relationships with teams and players in the Great North.
Among the APs who have stood out for the Paper Kings this season are 2006 birth year forward Cayden Kowal from the North Bay U18 Trappers and a trio of 2007 birth year performers from the Sudbury U16 Nickel Capitals in forwards Anthony Bertrand and Coulson Bell and goalie Nick Marson. Kowal, in particular, has opened many eyes with four goals, four assists, eight points in NOJHL games with the Paper Kings.
Meantime, the aforementioned Jason Rapcewicz not only owns and coaches the Paper Kings but he holds down a job with Canada Post. And the tireless Rapcewicz gave his views on the Paper Kings making it to the playoffs this season.
“We are extremely excited to have secured our playoff spot with a few games remaining in the season. We now have the ability to rest some guys and get some injuries healed so that we can head into the playoffs healthy. We have a few key players out right now that we would like to have healthy,” Rapcewicz relayed to Hockey News North.