El Paso Rhinos

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El Paso Rhinos
Elpasorhinos logo.jpg
City El Paso, Texas
League WSHL
Division Midwest
Founded 2006
Home arena Sierra Providence Event Center
Colors Orange, Black, Gray, White
                   
General manager Canada Cory Herman
Head coach Canada Cory Herman
Media America One
Website www.elpasorhinos.com
Franchise history
2006 – Present El Paso Rhinos
Championships
Division Championships 2013-14, 2012-13, 2011-12, 2010–11, 2008–09, 2007–08, 2006–07
Playoff championships 2014 UHU National Champions (AAU),
2008 & 2014 Thorne Cup Champions,
2011 USA Hockey Jr National Silver Medalist

The El Paso Rhinos are a Junior "A" ice hockey team, based in El Paso, Texas. The Rhinos compete as part Midwest Division of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL). Their home games are played at the Sierra Providence Events Center located within the El Paso County Coliseum complex.

Team History[edit]

In 2006, retired former El Paso Buzzards professional hockey player Cory Herman founded the El Paso Rhinos. The Buzzards had ceased operations in 2003 and Herman wanted to bring ice hockey back to the city of El Paso. With the support of his family and former Buzzard patrons, the team began their first season as a Junior B team.

Beginnings[edit]

With its debut as a WSHL team, the franchise’s first regular season was a winning one. Many Rhinos players found success in higher levels of ice hockey after their first successful season in El Paso. Early Rhinos alums like Tad Norris, Corey Jendras, Zach Jaraczewski, and Derrick Brennan all moved on to have stellar seasons in higher junior leagues and even college hockey.

Becoming a Junior 'A' Team[edit]

After the conclusion of the 2007 season, Commissioner Ron White announced the approval of Tier III Junior ‘A’ status for the WSHL. White noted, “It is an exciting moment for the WSHL and all potential junior players in the Western United States. Junior ‘A’ hockey is now coast to coast, border to border and we plan to meet this new opportunity with the maximum effort possible. All of our owners look forward to the success that this decision by USA Hockey will bring to the WSHL.”

First Thorne Cup Championship[edit]

Naturally, El Paso’s 2007-2008 looked promising with the new Junior ‘A’ status under their belt. Finishing fifth in the overall standings, Rhinos player Marcus Wilhite turned in a 46 goal, 109 point season to lead the Mid-West Division of the WSHL in scoring. In turn, El Paso’s early success attracted higher-level talent. The team acquired new talent in players like Anthony Paulsen, who led his previous league in scoring among all defenseman, scoring 6 goals and 18 assists in 38 MJHL games.

With talent and determination to boot, the Rhinos finished the 2007-2008 season with only 1 loss in regulation, giving them 98 point. As fate, or perhaps talent, would have it, the Rhinos faced off against the Phoenix Polar Bears in the WSHL championship after sweeping the Rampage for the Mid-West Division Champion title. Ultimately, the Rhinos defeated the Polar Bears and earned the right to hoist the 2008 Thorne Cup.

Defending the Thorne Cup[edit]

Hungry for a chance to defend their Thorne Cup title, the Rhinos re-signed Nick Gorup, Zach Hale, Austin Balko, Zach Kohn, Jeffrey Schmudlach, Bill Krueger, Arthur Hollinger, Eric LaBounty, Kevin Davis and Zach Goller. In addition, they signed forwards Braxton Green and William Gillis along with Maryland defenseman, David Fegler. The organization then turned to the Midwest to acquire new players. The Rhinos signed the talented Wisconsin trio of Anthony Knuth, Trevor Erickson and Michael Bottchner. Michiganders Drew Montague, Eben Crandall, Andrew Duff and Tyler Benson followed suit, arriving in El Paso eager to start the season.

The Rhinos had a hot start to the 2008-2009 season, winning 11 straight games before meeting a familiar foe in the Tulsa Rampage. After a close 6-5 loss, the El Paso team posted a record of 11-1-0 and 22 points. The Rhinos found redemption near the end of first half of the season, as they were back on top of the Rampage in the standings. El Paso posted a mid-season record of 25-1-1 with 51 points, while Tulsa was second in the division with 43 points and a record of 21-8-1.

Following a Thorne Cup season with more winning in the first half of the season, the Rhinos had a nearly unbeatable pride. Unexpectedly, that pride grew when Karrie Kern, Chief Executive Officer of the United States operations branch of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force took in a Rhinos game. Admiring the picture of the rhino on the bodywork of the team bus, she jokingly suggested the El Paso Rhinos adopt Tatenda, an actual rhino in Africa, as a mascot. The organization followed through on Kern’s suggestion and adopted the male rhino in 2008. Though he was not physically moved to America, the organization continues to donate to the organization to cover Tatenda’s food and upkeep expenses.

After the holiday break, the Rhinos returned to the ice with their new good luck charm Tatenda in their hearts. Tatenda’s spirit lifted the team to play an entire month without defeat. The players closed January by wearing pink jerseys that would be auctioned off, with all of the proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Good will produced good luck and the team skated by all of its competitors throughout the rest of the season. On March 8, 2009, El Paso became the Mid-West Division Champions for the third time in three years, beating San Antonio, 9-3, to sweep the Diablos out of the Western States Hockey League playoffs. Head coach Cory Herman also earned a monumental achievement, earning his 150th win in only three seasons at the helm.

With another winning season in the books, the Rhinos represented the Western States Hockey League at the Tier III Junior ‘A’ Hockey Nationals in Marlboro, MA. Although the team was unable to defend the Cup, the new franchise had inarguably made a name for itself in the WSHL after two consecutive National Tournament berths.

At the conclusion of the season, the junior hockey careers of Nick Gorup, Bill Krueger, Arthur Hollinger, Eric LaBounty, Jeffrey Schmudlach, Zach Goller, Kevin Davis, Andreas Bengtsson, Adam Rosenberg, Shane Callahan had also come to an end. Arthur Hollinger, Bill Krueger, Jeffrey Schmudlach, and Nick Gorup went on to sign with various college hockey teams around the country, motivated by their previous success with the Rhinos.

Scouting Staff Expansion and the El Paso Rhinos Training Center[edit]

In an effort to maintain the influx of ice hockey talent, the Rhinos organization increased their recruiting staff to five just before the 2009- 2010 season. Player Personnel Director Trevor Converse oversaw the 5 man staff, which included Lou Fritz, Mike Young, Bret Norris and Lou Gravel.

The Rhinos also made proactive efforts to improve the way their players lived and trained. In June of 2010, the franchise opened the El Paso Rhinos Training Center. The hockey specific gym contains state of the art equipment, including "The EDGE" Skating Treadmill, which allows players to skate on an ice-like treadmill, as well as the TOUCHEYE™ Video Analysis System, which provides immediate video response during training sessions. With the new training facility as a bonus, numerous players signed with the Rhinos for the upcoming 2010-2011 season.

Gaining Recognition and Expanding Community Outreach[edit]

With the brand new state-of-the-art training facility as a bonus, Shapiro, Benson, Ridgedell, Posillico, Bohn, Poland, Henne, and Wallace re-signed with the Rhinos. The organization also welcomed four new forwards, Moco Willis, Todd Thomas, Chip Callahan as well as goaltender Matt Tyler and defenseman Oliver Williams.

Attempting to avoid a repeat of the 2009- 2010 season opener, the Rhinos sought revenge on the defending Mid-West Division Champions, the Boulder Bison. El Paso started the series with a win, which was unfortunately followed by two losses.

Despite a tougher beginning to the season than previous years, the team remained committed to the community and returned home to wear a special Boy Scout jersey. The sweaters were auctioned off with all of the proceeds benefitting the local Boy Scout association. Just over a month later, the Rhinos replicated the auction with military jerseys during a home series that the organization named “Military Appreciation Weekend.” All active soldiers and their families were given free tickets, with two military hockey games played during second period intermissions. Making their participation annual, the Rhinos again collaborated with “Toys 4 Tots” to collect toys for children. The franchise also auctioned off law enforcement jerseys that commemorated the annual El Paso “Guns and Hoses” baseball game. Additionally, the players and staff collected money and shaved their heads for St. Baldrick’s.

The Rhinos continued to gain prevalence on the ice as well as off the ice. Because of their success, the team was featured monthly in the USA Junior Hockey Magazine 2011 edition.

Before heading into the post-season, the team and franchise saw their hard work pay off when they unveiled a brand new team bus on March 27, 2011. The team hopped on the bus to travel to Minnesota where they competed in the National Tournament. The Rhinos’ first game ended in a tie with the Granite City Lumberjacks. With wins over the Northern Cyclones and the Chicago Hitmen, El Paso earned a spot in the junior hockey version of the Final Four.

Allowing only one goal, netminder Trent Casper led the Rhinos to a win over the Idaho Steelheads, acquiring a berth to the Tier III Junior ‘A’ national championship game with a hard-fought 2-1 win in Rochester, Minnesota. The team was then set to face off against the Helena Bighorn in the national championship game.

On their fifth straight day of hockey, the Rhinos faced a 1-0 deficit just after 54 seconds of play against the Bighorn. Helena was able to maintain their lead and the Rhinos were stopped just one game short of their goal. However, the season of hard work and dedication was rewarded when the team returned to El Paso with silver medals in hand.

The Thorne Cup Championship Comes to El Paso[edit]

With the 2011- 2012 season off to a good start, the franchise received great news: the Rhinos had received the bid to host the Thorne Cup Championship. Seemingly in celebration, the Rhinos scored a whopping 40 goals in the three game series following the announcement.

After weathering a tough set of games at the mid-season WSHL showcase, the Rhinos were eager to get back to their winning ways. El Paso posted incredible numbers during the second half of the 2011- 2012 season, until the series just before the playoffs. The Rhinos lost the first two games to the Dallas Ice Jets but salvaged the last game to win 6-2.

Regardless, the Rhinos headed into playoffs with enough confidence to win the first series against the New Mexico Renegades. They were then forced to settle the score with the Dallas Ice Jets for the division title. Scoring eight points in best of three series, the Rhinos had secured their place in the Thorne Cup Championship playoffs.

El Paso and Dallas met again later in the playoffs but the second time around did not produce the same outcome. The Ice Jets captured two wins immediately and claimed their spot in the Thorne Cup Championship game. Avoiding ending the season with a loss, the Rhinos earned a victory over the Fresno Monsters for third place.

Although the season had a successful ending, the 2012-2013 team would be without crucial point scorers in goaltender Trent Caspar, ranked eleventh in the league in goals against average, and Trey Hughes, who finished tied for twenty-first in league scoring. Hughes signed with the Twin City Steel, a Minnesotan team in the North American Tier III Hockey League. Kyle Stephens left El Paso to attend Minot University where his team won the American College Hockey Association Men’s Division I Championship.

Record Breaking 2012-2013 Season[edit]

The 2012-2013 season marked El Paso’s first season in the Mountain Conference. Regardless of new opponents, the Rhinos were able to clinch their conference.

By the end of the 2012-2013 season, the Rhinos had broken all franchise attendance records, setting new records for the most sold out crowds in one season, largest crowd in a season and overall total attendance for the year.

Many players from the 2012-2013 roster graduated to higher leagues at season’s end. Rhinos tough guy John Morales signed with the English River Miners of the SIJHL. El Paso native and Rhinos captain Michael Rivera went on to play college hockey at the University of Central Oklahoma. Forwards Tyler Basham and Tommy Malkmus went on to play in the NAHL. Basham joined the NAHL’s Johnstown Tomahawks while Malkmus returned home to North Dakota to play with the NAHL Bismarck Bobcats.

2014 National and Thorne Cup Champions[edit]

In true Rhino fashion, the team strung together another successful season in 2013-2014, earning a stellar 44-2-0 record. The Rhinos record-breaking season was due in large part to a truly deep roster. Veteran players like David Nelson, Andrew Bradford, Jack Strusz, Chris Wilhite, and Nick Wright returned to the team. Meanwhile, the explosive Plesa brothers line became an offensive machine for the Rhinos, posting a combined 270 points. Forwards Chad Cesarz and Austin Hoff also returned to the Rhinos from NAHL clubs, while defenseman Kalvis Ozols and forwards Eric Baldwin and Drew DePalma were acquired from the San Diego Gulls. Jan Dam, former Rhino and the newest staff member, convinced Jiri Pestuka, another Czech native, to join the El Paso roster late in the season. With these acquisitions and resignings, the Rhinos successfully solidified top-end offensive talent and productive depth.

In the crease, the Rhinos acquired two solid goaltenders to make up arguably the most powerful tandem in the WSHL. Herman’s last minute trades allowed for Seattle Totems goalie Bryce Fink to support Vay in the net. At the end of the Rhinos deep postseason run, Fink was named Thorne Cup and National Championship MVP, earning a 6-0 record in the postseason. Fellow Rhinos goaltending acquisition Adam Vay achieved similar success in the regular season, earning a 25-1-0 record and fantastic .936% save percentage. Vay also won all three of his playoff starts, making the Fink-Vay tandem undefeated in the Thorne Cup Playoffs. At season’s end, Vay was rated the number one goalie in the WSHL with the best goals against average, save percentage, and near-perfect regular season record.

Rhino staff also contributed mightily to the successful season. Garrett Poland returned as assistant coach while Jan Dam returned to help with hockey operations and European scouting. The city certainly rallied around the team’s success; the Rhinos posted 26 sellouts, good for best attendance in the entire WSHL.

As the number one team in the WSHL and arguably all of Tier III junior hockey all season long, the Rhinos took advantage of their regular season momentum by posting an undefeated playoff record (9-0-0) that earned them a trip to the 2014 Thorne Cup Championship. The Rhinos defeated the defending champion Idaho Jr. Steelheads 7-3 in front of a rowdy home crowd to clinch their second Thorne Cup in franchise history.

Less than three weeks later, the Rhinos travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada to contend for the National Championship title. After a win over the Jersey Shore Wildcats, the El Paso looked to take on the Idaho Steelheads again. This time, however, their luck ran out as the Steelheads clenched a shutout victory. After correcting their path with two wins over the Soo Firehawks, the Rhinos met the Steelheads for the third time in three weeks. A 7-3 win for El Paso meant that Idaho had been dethroned yet again. David Nelson’s hat trick and Bryce Fink’s goaltending performance helped the Rhinos earn their first National Championship Title in franchise history.

In addition to winning three title during the season, the Rhinos played in the franchise's first outdoor game. Clad in vintage throw back jerseys, the Rhinos secured a shutout of the New Mexico Renegades at the Los Alamos Outdoor Rink. Off the ice, the Rhinos made community gains by hosting their fifth annual golf tournament as well as its inaugural Vern Jhondro Memorial Rhino Run.

At the end of the season, Drew DePalma, Chad Cesarz, Austin Hoff, and Chris Wilhite, and Jack Strusz committed to play for St. Mary’s. Dakota Beaulieu signed to Worcester State in Massachusetts and Bryce Fink committed to play at the University of Wisconsin Superior. Defenseman Kalvis Ozols joined the professional ranks as he travels home to Europe to play for the Mont-Blanc Yetis. Tom Bartel also moved on to play collegiate hockey as he signed with Hamline University.

Roster[edit]

Updated October 5, 2014.[1]

Forwards
# Player Pos. Shoots Height Weight Place of Birth
9 United States Jesse Esposito F R 6' 0" 185 lbs. Gilbert, Arizona, USA
10 Switzerland Dominique Pozzi F L 5' 9" 170 lbs. Zurich, Switzerland
11 Latvia Reinis Vitolins F L 6' 0" 170 lbs. Riga, Latvia
12 United States Bryton Tomko F R 6' 0" 185 lbs. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
14 Switzerland Tim Odermatt F L 5' 10 180 lbs Zug, Switzerland
15 United States Lukas Znosko F L 5' 10" 180 lbs. Stamford, Connecticut, USA
17 Sweden Sebastian Borg RW L 5' 10" 190 lbs. Stockholm, Sweden
19 Czech Republic Marek Langhammer F R 6' 2" 190 lbs. Trutnov, Czech Republic
20 United States Kendal Craig F L 5' 11" 190 lbs. Amarillo, Texas, USA
21 Czech Republic David Bures F L 6' 2" 195 lbs. Prague, Czech Republic
22 United States Gavin Abbott RW L 6' 3" 190 lbs. Binghamton, New York, USA
24 Czech Republic Jiri Pestuka F R 6' 0" 185 lbs. Prostejov, Czech Republic
25 United States Koler Kanistanaux F L 6' 0" 195 lbs. Whitefish, Montana, USA
Defensemen
# Player Pos. Shoots Height Weight Place of Birth
2 United States Adam Zimmerman D 5' 11" 190 lbs. Gilbert, Arizona, USA
3 United States Eliot Herz D R 6' 2" 180 lbs. Eagle River, Alaska, USA
4 United States Angel Sanca D R 6' 0" 220 lbs. Norwich, Connecticut, USA
5 United States Gabriel Goodroe D R 6' 0" 200 lbs. El Paso, Texas, USA
6 United States Liam Millar D R 6' 0" 200 lbs. Durango, Colorado, USA
7 Canada Felix Loiselle D L 6' 2" 215 lbs. Montreal, Quebec, Canada
8 Czech Republic David Brancik D L 6' 3" 210 lbs. Prostejov, Czech Republic
Goaltenders
# Player Pos. Catches Height Weight Place of Birth
1 Hungary Adam Vay G L 6' 6" 220 lbs. Budapest, Hungary

Community Outreach[edit]

The Rhinos frequently wear specialized jerseys on the ice and auction them off to help raise funds for local and/or charitable causes. They have raised money for causes including, but not limited to: Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Special Olympics, and local youth hockey. The Rhinos also receive strong mutual support from U.S. Military stationed at nearby Fort Bliss. The Rhinos not only host Military Appreciation nights, but they also give free admission (courtesy of a local sponsor) to all Military personnel and their families. The Rhinos also host Adoption Days with the Humane Society of El Paso and the Animal Rescue League of El Paso, so that members of the El Paso community can adopt pets into loving homes.

Tatenda[edit]

Coach Herman was approached by Karrie Kern the CEO of the U.S. Branch of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, after seeing the team's bus in San Antonio, TX. During their conversation she told him the story of an orphaned rhinoceros in Zimbabwe named Tatenda, and jokingly suggested the team adopt her as their mascot. The Rhinos organization thought this was a great idea and so in November 2008 the team adopted Tatenda.[2]

Skate Mates Educational Program[edit]

As a way to give back to El Paso, Lori Briggs, the former figure skating director at the El Paso County Coliseum, created the Rhinos mentoring program five years ago. Every school year since then, the Rhinos organization has sent players to Crosby Elementary School where they become interactive role models to the students.This year, under the title, “Skate Mates,” the community education effort will be expanded to more schools. Groups of players will be assigned schools that they will visit weekly. They will work closely with students on specific subjects and encourage them to excel inside and outside of the classroom.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "El Paso Rhinos Roster". Pointstreak/WSHL. Retrieved 2014-09-28. 
  2. ^ El Paso Rhinos: Tatenda, retrieved 2013-06-18 

External links[edit]