Props to the Paper Kings

April 2, 2024

Their season ended in a junior hockey heartbreak. Espanola Paper Kings held a 3-1 playoff series lead on the favoured Blind River Beavers only to lose the next three matches including the seventh and deciding game.

Still, it was a Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League season for the ages for Espanola. The Paper Kings set a franchise record with 69 points from a regular season mark of 34-23-1. And while the fourth seed Paper Kings fell to the Beavers in Game 7 of the West Division semi finals, Espanola gave no. 1 seed Blind River all that it could handle.

The 34-23-1 record and 69 points was the second successive solid season for the Paper Kings. It followed a 2022-2023 season in which Espanola had 63 points from a record of 29-24-5 before bowing to the Sudbury Cubs in the first round of the playoffs.

As for this season, Marc Gagnon — who is the hard working, well connected, second year general manager of the Paper Kings — had plenty good to say about the exploits of the 2023-2024 edition of the Espanola adventure.

Owen Fergusson

“Being part of franchise record in wins and points and having the top two point getters (Lucas Signoretti and Owen Fergusson) as well as the top point scoring defenseman (Spencer Horgan) in the entire Canadian Jr. Hockey League was unreal to be part of,” Gagnon relayed to Hockey News North.

“Having said that,” Gagnon continued, “the most impressive element of the team is that they are all a great group of kids. We wish our graduating players all the best. And a big thank you to all the Espanola support … we are already looking forward to working on the 2024-2025 season.”

Meanwhile, Bill Vanderleest, a Sault Ste. Marie resident who joined the Paper Kings as their goalie coach prior to the start of the 2023-2024 season after more than a decade in the same position with the rival Soo Eagles of the NOJHL, came away thoroughly impressed with his initial campaign in Espanola.

Lucas Signoretti

“Kudos to both Marc (Gagnon) and (president and head coach) Jason (Rapcewicz) for the job they did with the Paper Kings this season,” Vanderleest relayed to Hockey News North. “I think they are a couple of great hockey minds who got the very most out of the players.”

The ageless Vanderleest, who is also the goalie coach for the Sault College Cougars varsity women’s championship hockey team in addition to his duties with the NOJHL Paper Kings, said he truly appreciates the players who are part of the Espanola program.

“As for the kids on the team, they were a great bunch to be around. I am very much looking forward to see what the future brings to the Paper Kings program,” said Vanderleest, who regularly commuted from his home in Sault Ste. Marie to Espanola for practice sessions over the course of the ’23-24 season.

Looking ahead, the Paper Kings can potentially return nine of their top 10 point producers from this season to next. They are Lucas Signoretti (47 goals, 70 assists, 117 points), Owen Fergusson (41-69-110), Spencer Horgan (29-60-89), Blake Peters Davey (28-41-69), Grayden Guthrie (19-20-39), Kyle den Ouden (18-19-37), Atley Gringorten (16-16-32), Grant Booth (12-16-28) and Dario Sacino (11 goals, 12 assists, 23 points in just 21 games.)

Jake Marois

The Paper Kings will be out to try to bring in a new starting goalie to replace the graduated Jake Marois. Marois was a standout between the pipes for Espanola this season. A Sudbury product, Marois fashioned a regular season record of 19-12-1 with a 3.82 goals against average and .904 save percentage and then followed that up with a playoff mark of 3-4-0 to go with a 3.49 GAA and .916 save percentage.

Espanola’s other goalie this season, youngster Drew Gaulton, is expected to earn a position with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League next season. Gaulton has spent the past two seasons developing in the NOJHL with the Paper Kings. Gaulton was Sudbury’s second round pick at the 2022 OHL priority selections draft.

Back to this season and taking a glance ahead, the aforementioned Jason Rapcewicz, as the operator and head coach of the Paper Kings, provided a lengthy address to Hockey News North.

“I am extremely happy with our results this year,” Rapcewicz began. “Obviously we would have loved to win the series against Blind River, which is a good, well coached hockey team. We battled Blind River for seven games and they were fortunate enough to take the win. We had some key injuries that affected us down the stretch in the series and we just could not find the extra gear to pounce on them.

“As far as the regular season went, I felt that we had another great year, setting records for most wins, most points … our power play was better, our penalty kill was better and we had a great group of players. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by great staff in Marc, Billy, Joel, Austin, Kyle, Bailey, Virginia and my wife and daughter. That has really allowed me to focus on other areas now that I am not wearing as many hats.

“We are looking forward to next year … I am working on trying to attract a few big sponsors. Now that we have been able to put a quality product on the ice in the NOJHL I feel we are an attractive place for businesses to sponsor and advertise to gain extra exposure throughout northern Ontario,” Rapcewicz continued.

“We are going to take a small break then regroup and start building for next season. Before that, I would also like to say a huge thank you to our fans that supported us throughout the season and in the playoffs travelling to Blind River for the away games and making the atmosphere fun for the players. A big shout out to the Blind River fans who did the same. It was a great series and it’s created a bit of a Highway 17 rivalry, that is for sure,” wrapped up Rapcewicz.

What you think about “Props to the Paper Kings”

  1. Congratulations on a great season and continued success for the strong Espanola franchise. Solid management, staff and coaches.

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