An Espanola team in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League has not had a full winning season since the Rivermen of 2013-2014 posted a record of 32-23-1 and made it through two rounds of the playoffs.
Espanola was without an NOJHL team in 2014-2015 but returned in 2015-2016 with new ownership and a new name, the Express. But from the ’15-16 season through to the 2021-2022 term, the Express did not have a winning record, except for the Covid-abbreviated slate of 2020-2021 when Espanola played in only 12 games and had a 5-4-3 mark.
When the NOJHL returned to season-long activity in ’21-22, the Express missed the playoffs with a record of 13-31-4. And during the past off season, owner and head coach Jason Rapcewicz revamped the franchise wth ultramodern lime green, blue and white colours and a new name, the Paper Kings. Not only that but Rapcewicz also secured a first time affiliation with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League for the Paper Kings.
And while there is still a lot of hockey to be played in this 2022-2023 season, the Paper Kings became big news as they approached the one-eighth mark of the schedule with a 5-1-1 record and a 16th place slot in the weekly, Top 20, Canadian Jr. Hockey League national rankings.
Marc Gagnon, who was hired by Rapcewicz before the start of this season as general manager of the Paper Kings, commented on the alliance with the OHL Wolves.
“First of all, Jason (Rapcewicz) and I are very happy with the affiliation with the OHL Wolves. We are fully committed to developing their prospects such as goaltender Drew Gaulton and defenceman Conor Walton. Both (2006 birth year) players have stepped in and are a big part of the club and play big minutes for us,” Gagnon relayed to Hockey News North. “Gaulton started six of our first seven games (and posted a 4-1-1 record with a 2.94 goals against average and .917 save percentage) and brings a calmness in net while Walton is playing big minutes as well on both specialty units (while picking up six points in six games.) They have played really well for us.”
Gagnon added that the players are buying into what Rapcewicz as the coach is selling.
“Every player is working hard, including all staff members, to make this initial year of the Paper Kings a success. All returning players and newcomers have bought into Jason’s plans. Our defence has been strong. We are lucky with the mix we have of styles. Captain Josh Rumolo is leading the way on the blue line and with leadership on and off the ice. Up front we are a balanced forward unit as everyone is contributing nicely so far,” said Gagnon.
The name change has also been a hit.
“The rebranding from the Express to the Paper Kings has been received very positively. Fans and players like the new colours and the history of Espanola behind the name of the Paper Kings The support from the town at our games has been greatly appreciated,” Gagnon summed up.
Espanola goalie Drew Gaulton and defenceman Conor Walton defend Sudbury Cubs forward Nolan Newton during NOJHL action at Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury this season. (Photo by Ben Leeson/Postmedia)