A mere four points is all that separates the top five teams of the six members who comprise the West Division of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. Indeed, the upstart, fifth place Espanola Express collected five of a possible six points last week to move within four points of the lead in the NOJHL’s version of the Wild West.
At the top of the West Division, the Michigan Soo Eagles and Soo Thunderbirds are tied for first place with 15 points from identical records of 7-2-1. Then comes the Sudbury Cubs with 14 points from a record of 7-6-0, the Blind River Beavers with 13 points via 6-5-1 mark and Espanola with a 5-7-1 record and 11 points.
Elliot Lake Red Wings occupy last place in the West with six points from a 3-9-0 record. After winning its first two games of the season, Elliot Lake has lost nine of its past 10 outings.
As for Espanola, its recent surge came from an impressive three games in three nights performance last week. The Express began with a 5-3 win over Sudbury, gained a point from a 3-2 overtime setback to the Soo, then concluded with an 8-2 road romp over Elliot Lake.
To be sure, Espanola general manager and coach Jason Rapcewicz has manufactured an impressive rebuild on the Express lane as only four players were with the team last season. Rapcewicz’s recruiting efforts and trade moves have gained the Express incoming players from Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and throughout southwestern, eastern, and northern Ontario.
A balanced scoring attack has been an Express feature led by 16-year old rookie sensation Ty McHutchion, who leads Espanola with seven goals, four assists, 11 points. Following him are Kobe Braham (6-4-10), Giovanni Perillo (3-7-10), Josh Boucher (3-7-10), James Eng (5-4-9), Kyle Caron (4-4-8) and defensemen Caleb Resch (1-6-7) and Nick Toffoli (1-5-6.)
Meanwhile, rookie goalie Patrick Boivin has been outstanding for the Express.
Hailing from down the road in Blind River, Boivin has a 5-5-1 record with a 2.98 goals against average and .921 save percentage. Boivin has even contributed offensively with no less than three assists from his goalie position.
PHOTO: Goalie Patrick Boivin backstopped Espanola to a recent 8-2 win over Elliot Lake. (Northern Exposures)