When you first enter the ice rink at the Sierra Providence Events Center, the first think you notice hanging along the back wall above the ice is a long line of orange banners with the Rhinos’ logo on them. Each banner commemorates one of the many accomplishments of the team: division championships, conference championships, Thorne Cup Championships, and a National Championship. In just under ten years of existence, the El Paso Rhinos have become one of the most successful teams in El Paso and one of the most well respected junior hockey organizations in the country. Behind much of the great success the team has had stands head coach Cory Herman.
Cory Herman began playing hockey as a child with his brother in Duvall, Saskatchewan Canada where his father took care of an ice rink. Cory began his hockey career playing Forward in junior hockey leagues and at the University of Regina in Canada. In 1999, he arrived in El Paso as a professional player with the El Paso Buzzards. He played only one season with the Buzzards and by 2003, the Buzzards had ceased operations. In the meantime, Cory and his brother Tom had worked to create a youth hockey program for kids in El Paso.
After years of coaching youth hockey, Cory wanted to create a program that would allow the youth he was coaching to reach the next step in their hockey careers. In 2006, he founded the El Paso Rhinos junior hockey team, an amateur team intended to help youth players develop and reach higher levels of hockey, including NCAA. “We wanted to create something that would show players what they needed to do to make it to the NCAA,” he explains. “These guys are 18,19,20,” says Cory, “They’re chasing their dream.”
When the Buzzards stopped playing, fans missed having a home team and were waiting for hockey to come back to El Paso. But the Rhinos did not just bring hockey back, they brought winning hockey. With experience only coaching youth hockey, Cory led the team to a winning record in its very first year. In 2008, only the team’s second year, the Rhinos made it all the way to the Western States Hockey League Championship, where they defeated the Phoenix Polar Bears and won the 2008 Thorne Cup. This early success was unprecedented for the team from El Paso. By his third year as head coach, Cory had already amassed 150 victories.
Cory credits his staff for the success the team has had. “Obviously we have a great staff recruiting players. We recruit players from all over the world.” But how do you convince players looking to start their hockey careers to come to a place like El Paso, not exactly known as a hockey town? “It was tough for the first three years but our record and things like our training facility attract a lot of players,” he says. That training facility is a hockey specific gym with state of the art equipment used by players to improve their skills and fitness. It is something that has encouraged many top players to bring their talents to El Paso. “There are one hundred sixty teams playing at this level and you have to find ways to offer something that other teams don’t.”
According to Cory, the most important part of his job as head coach is practice. “Practice is where they learn everything,” he says. And what more would you expect from a someone who spent years teaching young people how to play hockey and now coaches young players on how to take the next step in their careers? Teaching and developing players to have success has been his main focus since his playing career ended and continues to be his priority today.
Success on the ice is not all that matters to Cory, however. The Rhinos are extremely involved with local charities and organizations as well as reaching out to schools all around El Paso. With such great fan support, he wanted to make sure that the team gave back to the community. By letting fans auction for the opportunity to shave players’ and coaches’ heads and donating the proceeds to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for childhood cancer, making appearances at local schools, and even adopting Tatenda, a real rhino in Africa, and paying for his food and expenses in an effort to promote conservation, it is clear how important community service is to Coach Herman. “These players come from all over the world and I want them to experience giving back to the community.”
Despite his success and his track record as a great coach, Cory has no plans to leave the Rhinos any time soon. As the head coach, founder, and the owner of the Rhinos, he says he wants to keep building and see the program continue to grow and develop. It is clear how important the Rhinos are to him, but he has also never stopped caring about youth hockey. He continues to work with the youth hockey program he started back in 2001 and hopes that one day, players from the youth hockey teams in El Paso will be good enough to play on the Rhinos.
The Rhinos continue to be a model organization in junior hockey with several players going on to play in colleges and higher junior hockey leagues. Some players have even gone on to play professionally in leagues around Europe. They continue to attract talented players from all over the world and they continue to win.
In 2014, the Rhinos appeared in their third National Tournament where they won the first National Championship Title in team history. However Cory’s favorite experience as head coach of the Rhinos occurred earlier that season. After going undefeated in the Western States Hockey League playoffs, the Rhinos faced the defending champs, the Idaho Jr. Steelheads in the Thorne Cup Finals. The Rhinos defeated the Steelheads 7-3 to win their second Thorne Cup Championship. But this time it was at home in front of the great fans that Cory is so grateful for and the community that he continues to give so much to.