Record: W: 38 – L: 12 – OTL: 2
View season stats here.
SIGNING KEY PLAYERS
The team started off the season by signing several players from the NA3HL’s Atlanta Capitals who would be instrumental in the Rhinos’ success throughout the year. Defenseman Riley Hummitch, and forwards Evan Camba, Drake Cartwright, Alex Johanson, and Arturas Laukaitis all played in Atlanta before committing to the Rhinos in 2016. Later in the season, the Rhinos would eventually ink former Capital Phil Pugliese. The former Atlanta players along with English defenseman Simon Hobbis, Canadian forward Chaseton Sare, and Canadian goalie, Tymen Edelkoort III were top contributors to the team’s 52-38-14 record.
The Rhinos got off to a strong start, winning their first 12 games with sweeps of the Arizona Hawks, San Diego Sabers, Dallas Snipers and Ontario Avalanche. Shortly thereafter, the Springfield Express handed the Rhinos their first two losses in Missouri and Wichita earned a win over El Paso in the Sun City the following weekend. The Rhinos swept Tulsa and Phoenix before suffering two more losses to the Valencia flyers during their only December home series. Rounding out the first half of their season with two wins and two losses at the annual Las Vegas Showcase, the team shutout the Idaho Steelheads and topped the Southern Oregon Spartans but lost to the Colorado Eagles and the Casper Coyotes.
Heading into January with seven losses, the Rhinos were eager to improve their record as they started the new year. They scored 19 goals in three games against the Dallas Snipers but were quickly tamed when they dropped a game to the Long Beach Bombers in only their second series back. The next weekend, the Texas team won two games in Oklahoma City before returning to El Paso only to fall twice to the Blazers a weekend later. El Paso went on to sweep the Oilers and the Express before being swept by the Wichita Thunder in their final regular-season series.
Just before playoffs, the franchise announced that former Rhino and Worcester State alum Vinny Bohn would become the Assistant Coach and help coach the team into the post-season. Unfortunately for Bohn and the Rhinos, the team’s post-season run was not as long as the Rhinos preferred. The Rhinos dropped their first playoff game to the Springfield Express, 5-4, before winning the final two games of the series to earn entry to the third round of playoffs. The following weekend, the Rhinos’ season ended when they were swept by the Wichita Thunder who went on to become the 2017 Thorne Cup Champions.
Despite not having the season ending the franchise hoped for, several players had notable statistics at the end of the 2016-17 season. Forward Chaseton Sare led the team in points and goals and was also among the WSHL’s top four scoring leaders. With 108 points, Sare surpassed Marcus Wilhite for the Franchise’s All-Time Points per Season record. Sixteen points behind Sare, Alex Johanson ranked second on the team and ninth in the League in scoring with 42 goals and 50 assists for a total of 92 points in 51 games. Arturas Laukaitis, who briefly left the Rhinos midseason to play for Lithuania in the World Junior Championships, finished the season with 40 goals, 33 assists, and 73 points in only 38 games. Defenseman Simon Hobbis rounded out the team’s top five scoring leaders with 47 points on the season. Finally, Tymen Edelkoort earned 25 wins, seven shutouts, and a 0.937 save percentage in 31 games.
Following the season, defenseman Simon Hobbis and forward Drake Cartwright headed to play at the University of Central Oklahoma. While playing under former Rhino Captain and UCO Assistant Coach Michael Rivera, Hobbis and Cartwright helped the Bronchos win the 2018 WCHL Championship, the team’s third League title in the past three years. Alex Johanson also continued his hockey career, playing at Trine University where he totaled 8 points in 25 games.
Arturas Laukaitis moved up to the NAHL where he played most of the season with the Minnesota Magicians before again returning to Lithuania to play in the World Championship tournament. Fellow Rhinos Colby Haugen, Phil Pugliese, JC Dubecky, Chaseton Sare, Jayden Ritchie, Jake Kopinski, Ty Erramouspe all signed with El Paso for the 2017-18 season.
The summer of 2017 saw the announcement of the Rhinos’ installment of the RapidShot Hockey Training System, a training program used by some of the nation’s top professional and college hockey programs like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the University of Notre Dame. The shot system is designed to help players improve reception, reaction time as well as shot accuracy and speed.
The Team also hired a new General Manager, Corey Heon, who had long been involved with the El Paso Hockey Association as a referee, coach and color commentator. He explained, “It’s a great opportunity to help the program grow into something bigger and better. I’ve always been a part of the organization in some way or another and it was time to make it official.”