Record: W: 43 – L: 4 – OTW: 2 – OTL: 2
Post-Season Cancelled Due to COVID-19
View season stats here.
After winning the WSHL’s Thorne Cup twice in two years, the Rhinos would make a concentrated effort to earn a three-peat, an incredibly difficult feat for any sports team.
They started training camp with eight returners from the championship team, yet only five of those veterans would remain on the team for the entire season. Most notably, Sam Sykes, Easton Easterson, and Dominic Erdt led the team on and off the ice.
Manitoba forward Sam Sykes returned to El Paso for his final year of junior hockey in which he posted 34 goals and 18 assists for a total of 52 points. Despite suffering a season ending injury in January, Easton Easterson, a forward from Los Angeles, CA, still managed to accumulate 52 points (24 goals and 28 assists) in 38 games. German native Dominic Erdt ended the season as the third leading scorer among the WSHL’s defenseman with 51 points.
In addition to returners Sykes, Erdt and Easterson, newcomers Niklas Ornmarker and Sebastian Jovicic became essential parts of the Rhinos’ roster. By the end of the regular season, Ornmarker’s 93 point season had landed him among the WSHL’s top seven point-leaders and top six goal leaders. Jovicic, Ornmarker’s fellow Swede, ended the regular season ranked 4th in assists and 11th in points, despite being a defenseman. He also was the highest scoring defenseman in the WSHL.
Twins Jonathan and Jacob Clement, native El Pasoans who started their hockey career in the Rhinos’ youth program also earned their spot on the roster.
Building on the team’s initial core roster, throughout the season, Herman picked up several players who would help the team’s chances of winning their third championship in as many years.
After the El Paso vs Wichita series in November, Marcus Ohlsson-Ornelius left the Junior Thunder to become a Rhino. Joining a number of other Swedes on the team, Ohlsson-Ornelius contributed greatly to the Rhinos’ offense, tallying 21 goals and 26 assists for a total of 47 points in only 25 games played.
In early January, Coach Cory Herman was at work again. He made moves to acquire Tomas Urbanec, the forward who was on track to become the WSHL’s all-time points leader. In his 10th game with El Paso, Urbanec scored his 352nd point on Feb. 7, broke former Rhino Jakob Kranabetter’s record, and became the player with the most points in league history. The Czech native continued racking up points and adding to the game played column, and as a result, finished the season as the WSHL’s All-Time Games Played Leader and ranked 12th in points for the 2019-20 season.
Goalies Oliver Soovik and Sawyer Schmidt became the crux of El Paso’s defense. Tied for second in the WSHL with 23 wins, Schmidt also ranked 6th in the League in save percentage. Soovik’s 17 wins and .935 save percentage earned him a spot among the League’s wins and save percentage leaders. Both Rhino goalies tied for third in the WSHL in shutouts.
#ELPASOSTRONG, WELCOMING THE MEXICAN NATIONAL TEAM & COVID-19 CUTTING THE SEASON SHORT
When the El Paso Hockey Association and the El Paso Rhinos opened El Paso’s only ice rink in September, #ElPasoStrong was emblazoned around the faceoff circle at center ice. The phrase and hashtag #ElPasoStrong paid tribute to the lives lost during El Paso’s August 3, 2019 tragedy.
The Rhinos then made history by hosting the Mexican National team for a two-game series in late September. Although the meeting had been coordinated before the tragedy in early August, the series took on a new meaning. It sought to show unity between two countries and highlight El Paso’s unique cultural fabric which is comprised of Mexican and American threads.
Throughout the series, the community remembered and honored the lives of the American, Mexican, and German nationals who lost their lives on August 3 as well as recognized and thanked local law enforcement and first responders. The series received coverage from NHL.com (1) (2) (3) and NBC Sports.
In the first half of the regular season, the Rhinos had six sweeps and suffered a total of five losses to four teams including the Pueblo Bulls, Northern Colorado Eagles, Dallas Snipers and the Oklahoma City Blazers.
In December, at the WSHL Showcase in Las Vegas, which marks the midway point of the season, the Rhinos won highly anticipated matchups against the Edson Aeros, leaders of the Provincial Division, and the Ogden Mustangs, the team the Rhinos topped to earn their last two championship titles.
Maintaining the momentum at the start of the second half of the season, the Rhinos earned sweeps in five more series and suffered only one shootout loss at home to the Northern Colorado Eagles. Off the ice, Rhino Country, boasting sold out crowds full of raucous and passionate fans despite being an untraditional hockey market, was also featured on NBC Sports for Hockey Day in America in February 2020. In the teams’ final regular season home series, the team hosted its tenth annual St. Baldrick’s head shaving event where all players and coaching staff members shaved their heads to fight childhood cancer. Between online donations and collections from the head shaving event, Rhino Country raised over $20,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
With a promising regular season record, a solid core roster, and Herman’s shrewd player acquisitions later in the season, the Rhinos were arguably poised to win a third championship as they entered the post-season. On Mar 13, just before the first round of playoffs, however, the league decided to forgo the rest of the season due to safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Just over two months later, the WSHL followed up the decision by announcing the league would go dormant for the 20-21 season.
Shortly thereafter, the Rhinos announced that they would play in the NA3HL for the 2020-21 season and that the following season, 2021-22, they would organize two teams: one in the NA3HL and one in the NAHL.