Record: W: 56 – L: 3 – OTL: 1
Division Champions & Thorne Cup Champions
View season stats here.
RHINOS EARN LEAGUE BEST REGULAR SEASON RECORD
With Rhino alumni Jayden Ritchie, Phil Pugliese, Chaseton Sare, Colby Haugen, JC Dubecky, Jake Kopinski, and Ty Erramouspe returning for another season of Rhino Hockey, the franchise was confident in its ability to bring home the Thorne Cup from the start.
That feeling was justified when the Rhinos opened the season with 24 goals against the Dallas Snipers in their first series. The momentum continued as the team impressively racked up 27 wins, with no losses, before the midpoint of the season. At the Western States Shootout, however, the Idaho IceCats halted the Rhinos’ win streak when Russell Harren slipped one past Krasanovsky with only 1.4 seconds left in regulation. Looking for redemption, the Rhinos pulled out wins over the Ogden Mustangs and Long Beach Bombers in the final two games. Following the Shootout, the franchise also announced that they would host the 2018 Thorne Cup.
After the holiday break and the exciting announcement, El Paso headed to Wichita where they posted 30 goals over the three games. Despite a strong start to the second half of the season, the Rhinos’ momentum was stopped again the following weekend when the dropped the first game to the Blazers in Oklahoma City. El Paso bounced back immediately winning the final two games of the series. They also went on to win every remaining regular season game, giving them a record of 49-1-1, the best regular season record in WSHL history.
WINNING THE THIRD THORNE CUP IN RHINO COUNTRY
After being two games shy of a perfect season, the Rhinos’ Thorne Cup run got off to a rough start despite being the host team. El Paso dropped their first Round Robin game 4-1 to the Long Beach Bombers and the following night fell to the Oklahoma City Blazers, 4-3, in their second Round Robin game. The tables turned on Friday, however, when the Rhinos squeaked by the Utah Outliers to land themselves in the Thorne Cup semi-finals where they shutout the Idaho IceCats. In a thrilling final against the Ogden Mustangs, Nikita Pintusov’s tie-breaking goal with only 2:10 left in regulation gave the franchise their third Thorne Cup.
El Paso’s Thorne Cup push was possible because of the roster’s talent and depth. The offense posted 405 goals while the defense only allowed 63 throughout the season.
Former Valencia Flyer Jakob Kranabetter was added to the Rhino roster late, but Rhino Country would be where the forward became the WSHL’s All-Time Points and All-Time Assists Leader. He totaled 239 assists and 351 points in four seasons in the WSHL. He also finished his junior career ranked fourth in points in the League for the season.
Austin Simpson also greatly contributed to El Paso’s offensive success, ending the season with 98 points in 50 games played. Ranked thirteenth in League for points, Simpson’s 38 goals and 60 assists also made him the team’s leading scorer for the season. Only two points behind his fellow forward, Chaseton Sare’s 96 points included 51 goals, earning him the fourteenth spot on the League’s point leaderboard. Phil Pugliese also posted a notable 81 points in his final season as a Rhino.
Defensively, the Rhinos were led by netminder Filip Krasanovsky. In 37 games played, he had an impressive 93% save percentage and a goals against average of only 1.35 a game. He also posted 12 shutouts in 35 wins and two losses. Canadian goaltender Kayden Pickles, however, became the defensive backbone of the team during the Thorne Cup finals. After the Rhinos lost the first two games of the tournament, Pickles started in the final round robin game against the Utah Outliers. His win earned him a start in the semi-finals where he shutout the Idaho IceCats. Finally, Pickles held the Mustangs to only two goals in the championship game, allowing the Rhinos to hoist their third Thorne Cup.