A second half swoon cost the Espanola Express a playoff position in 2021-2022.
By Randy Russon – Hockey News North
July 31, 2022
Espanola finished six points back of the Elliot Lake Red Wings for the fifth playoff spot in the West Division of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
Now, with the 2022-2023 regular season slated to begin in less than six weeks, Express president and head coach Jason Rapcewicz is building up the Espanola roster with returning and incoming players.
Rapcewicz confirmed to Hockey News North that defenseman Josh Rumolo and forwards Kobe Braham, Atley Gringhorten, Liam Bridgeman, Ryan Rubic and Garreth Sturgess will board the Express for another season in ’22-23. Rumolo and Braham both have 2003 birth dates while the others were born in 2004.
Rapcewicz said all six have the ability to be game changers for the Express. He called Rumolo a “big bodied defenseman and a natural leader” and referred to the “great speed and key special teams play” of Braham, who not only scored 17 goals for Espanola in ’21-22 but was named NOJHL defensive forward of the year. As for Gringorten, Bridgeman, Rubic and Sturgess, Rapcewicz said he expects all four 18-year olds to “contribute more to the lineup and provide more steady and consistent play night in and night out this season, having adjusted to the speed and pace of the junior level.”
Among the notable newcomers to the Express for the upcoming season are 2002 birth year forward Bobby Pokupec and 2004 birth year forward Michael Leech. Pokupec played at the Jr. B level for the Regina Capitals in ’21-22 while Leech developed with the Ontario Hockey Academy.
Rapcewicz noted that Pokupec “will be relied upon for his leadership abilities and positive upbeat attitude. Bobby’s compete level is extremely highly and he will battle hard for 60 minutes every night. He is an extremely coachable player with a team first attitude.” Rapcewicz described Leech as “a good 200 foot player who plays with an edge. He has sandpaper and isn’t afraid to engage or battle in the corners. His speed and physicality will allow him to create space for himself and generate scoring opportunities.”
The Express is coming off of a ’21-22 season in which it gained 30 points from a record of 13-31-4. Of note, Espanola missed the playoffs in the West Division despite posting three more points than the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, who grabbed the fifth and final playoff spot in the East Division.