Austin Balko

Jun 30, 2013

We thought we would start our blast from the past a day early

Austin Balko

What years were you with the Rhinos?

I joined the Rhinos in 2007-08. I played there for the 07-08, 08-09, 09-10 seasons.

How did you become a Rhino?

I became a Rhino because of Trevor Converse. I played for him as a San Antonio Diablo in 05-06. While there I told him about my cousin Justin Donaghy and that he would be a good asset for next year\’s team. When Trevor left I went on to play Honeybaked AAA and he worked with Cory. After that year I went on to make the Topeka Roadrunners and was sent from there to El Paso. I was supposed to return to Topeka, but fell in love with the team and city, so I remained there for the next  three seasons.

Go back to when you were here. Describe the season or seasons in which you were here, how you felt, and what you experienced.

My first year here was amazing. In 07 we had the best record in the regular season, won the Midwest Division, and won the Thorne Cup. At nationals we went 2-1 with our only loss coming to the eventual champs, the New Hampshire Monarchs. The next season was just as great, and we had similar success. I was an alternative captain with Bill Krueger (legend) and Nick Gorup was our captain. We won the division and were runner ups to the Phoenix Polar Bears in the Thorne Cup Championships. In my final season I was named captain. We did very well overcoming adversity in that season and unfortunately were eliminated by the Boulder Bison in the Midwest Finals.

What is your most memorable moment as a Rhino?

My most memorable moment in Rhino history is when we won the Thorne Cup Championship. The team played extremely well all season and we were very tight knit. We were like a family and also had a confidence that we could not lose.

What is one funny story about your time as a Rhino?

One funny story happened my final year in El Paso. Anthony Knuth was an assistant captain on our team from Wisconsin. He is allergic to dairy products. We always used to get pizza after road games, and one night in Tulsa, Cory forgot to order one without cheese. Anthony and I went to his room with a few other guys, and he opened the door with chicken wings. We told him what had happened and he looked down at his wings, back up at us, back down, and slowly said “do you want my wings?” We died laughing before Knuth told him it was not a big deal and he would grab something from the gas station. Looking back it was a great moment because Coach Herman did not want to give his wings up but felt bad about forgetting.

Another funny story is when we had time to kill in San Antonio, so we went to Dave and Busters. Everyone was told to get to the bus at 2:00 pm and Ben Henne missed the memo. He had to take a cab from there to the game and barely made it before warm-ups.

Looking back, what do you miss the most?

I miss everything about El Paso and being a Rhino. I loved the team, and I loved the fans. The city really embraced us and made us feel like superstars. I miss the early practices and I especially miss Old Man Murray Bates!

Did you continue to play after your time with the Rhinos? And if so, where? Did you receive any awards?

After playing in El Paso, I went to Saint Mary\’s University of Minnesota with Andrew Ketterer, Nick Gualano, and Trevor “Swift” Erickson. Freshman year, we struggled out of the gate. I ended up winning Rookie of the Year for the MIAC and was named to the All MIAC Honorable Mention Team. In my sophomore year we still had a rough season, and couldn\’t get back on the winning track. I was able to make the All MIAC All Conference Team, but wish we would have won more games. Nick Gorup and Tyler Ridgedell joined us at SMU. Last year, my junior season, we won more games and had more success on the ice. I made the All MIAC Honorable Mention Team again, and this time was joined by two other teammates. This upcoming year will be my final year at SMU, and luckily I still have some of my Rhinos around to join me.

Is there anyone you that still keep in touch with in El Paso?

I still keep in touch a lot of the guys down in El Paso. I still keep in touch with Murray, Mikey Rivera, Grady Little, and the Herman brothers on occasion. I also keep in touch with the off ice officials and game day staff (Keith, Scott, Donny, etc.)

Where are you and what do you do now?

Currently I am in my senior year at Saint Mary\’s in Winona, Minnesota. I am playing hockey still and after college hope to join former teammate Nick Gorup in the professional ranks. Wherever life takes me after school, I hope to someday return to El Paso and help the Rhinos once again in anyway I can. I am going to school for Sport Management and Marketing, and hope to be a coach. I would love to return to El Paso and be a member of the staff.

What is one last thing would like to go back and do one last time as a Rhino?

Win nationals for sure. We should have won it and could have one it since the team started up in 2006.