Hayden Kowalski

Hayden Kowalski

What years were you with the Rhinos?
I played for the Rhinos from 2006-2008 (2 seasons).
How did you become a Rhino?
The way I became a Rhino was that I was in Las Vegas for the Global Hockey Showcase and spoke with Tom Herman (Cory\’s brother). He told me that they wanted me and that I should check out El Paso. I had already made plans to go to Dallas for the WSHL draft camp and was pretty set on attending that, but after talking with Tom and Cory on the phone I decided to go with my gut feeling and visit El Paso. After attending one of the camps they were holding, I decided that El Paso was the best place for me and I could tell in the way that Cory talked about his plans for the program, that El Paso would be one of the top programs in the country.
Go back to when you were here. Describe the season or seasons in which you were here, how you felt, and what you experienced.
I was still in high school when I first got to El Paso and was taking my senior year online through my school back home in Denver, Colorado. It was very tough leaving my friends and family, in what is supposed to be the best year of high school. Luckily I got paired up with a great billet family, the Lafnears, and I felt as if I was part of their family. In the beginning, I was barely making the lineup each night and this was probably the toughest part for me. One of the older guys who I looked up to, Corey Jendras, kind of took me under his wing and helped me get where I needed to me. When I got my opportunity to play on a consistent basis I made sure that I would do whatever I had to, to help the team win. I believe, at this time, Coach Herman saw what he initially saw in me as a player and this carried into the next season. The first season ended with a loss to the Phoenix Polar Bears in the Thorne Cup and we went on to the National Championships and represented our league very well. In the off season I trained harder than I ever had and wanted to prove to coach and the team that I could build on last season and be even better. The team in 07-08, I knew right off the bat, was a special team. Every person on that team was a “link” in the chain, which became the Credo of our team that year. Every person had a role that they fulfilled and I wouldn\’t have wanted to play with a different group of guys that season. We ended up having a very successful season and became Thorne Cup Champions, after sweeping the Phoenix Polar Bears at their home arena. Again in the National Tournament we represented our league well, but did not have the outcome we all thought we could have achieved.

What is your most memorable moment as a Rhino?

My most memorable moment as a Rhino and in my hockey career would definitely have to be the cancer awareness game we had in 07-08. This game was something very special to me because my Mom had recently beat the odds that doctors had placed on her and had become a cancer survivor. My Mom has always been an inspiration to me and my motivation to keep pushing through adversity. The night before the cancer awareness game I had 3 goals and I remember turning to Alec Sherman in the locker room and saying, “I wish I could have done what I did tonight, tomorrow night for my Mom.” He turned to me and said that tomorrow night would be a special night for me and I would have an even better game. During the National Anthem of the cancer awareness game, while wearing our pink jerseys, tons of emotions were flowing through me and I began to break down crying thinking of my Mom and what she had been through. My first shift of the game, full of emotion, I got an early penalty and told myself I had to calm down and play how my Mom would want me to play. I remember stepping out of the penalty box and receiving a pass from one of my linemates and scoring the first goal of the game. When I got back to the bench, Zach Goller pulled me aside and told me that my Mom would be proud of me and that it was only fitting that I scored the first goal of the game. I knew my Mom was watching the game online and after I scored, all I could think about was her. The game went on and I had 2 goals and 2 assists and towards the end of the game, Coach Herman threw me out every other shift trying to get me a hat trick. It was the last 2 minutes of the game and I received a pass in the slot and put in the back of the net. I finished the game with 3 goals and 2 assists, which would end up being the best game in my hockey career. I remember going into the locker room after an interview and getting the attention of the locker room to tell them how much that night meant to me. I thanked the team for being there for me and told them that I would cherish this moment forever. I kept the puck from my third goal and gave it, along with the jersey, to my mother in appreciation for the life lessons of perseverance and to never give up, that she had taught me.
What is one funny story about your time as a Rhino?

It is tough to pinpoint one funny story that happened when I was in El Paso, but every road trip with the guys was an experience. As cliché as it sounds, we became a family and would mess around in the hotel and in the locker room, but knew when it was time for business as well. I think overall road trips on the bus were probably the funniest times for us because at the end of the day we were still kids and loved to joke around with each other.
Looking back, what do you miss the most?

The things I miss most about El Paso are the guys I played with, as well as, the fans that came out to the games and became close friends during my time in El Paso. Playing for the Rhinos was a unique experience in that it wasn\’t just about the team. The fans would tailgate before and after the games and we all would hang out after the games with the fans and our various billet families. We all would help each other out when families needed help and developed a Rhino family. Everyone who helped around the arena, the billet families, fans, players, and coaches all became a big family during my time in El Paso.
Did you continue to play after your time with the Rhinos? And if so, where? Did you receive any awards?

I did play hockey after El Paso. I played at Nichols College for 1 year and then transferred to the University of Arizona and played there as well.

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

I still keep in touch with a few of the guys from the team. While in Massachusetts at Nichols College, Zach Kohn was my roommate and Daniel Barnes also attended school there while I was there. When I transferred to Arizona, Marcus Wilhite played for our rival at Arizona State. I used to go and visit him every once in a while in Tempe, AZ and he would come down to Tucson every so often. I also have kept in touch with a few guys here and there and think it would be great to have a team reunion from the Rhinos’ only Thorne Cup Championship team from 07-08.

Where are you and what do you do now?

Currently I am living in Tucson, Arizona and have one semester left of school at the University of Arizona. I am studying Business Administration, as well as, Communication. After school, I plan on moving back to Denver, Colorado and following the many leads that have developed for a career. One career I would like to pursue is working in radio, more specifically sports radio.

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

Looking back I believe I accomplished everything that I wanted to and more as a Rhino. As I said, I would love to get all of the guys back together from our team in 07-08 and I have been following the program since I left El Paso, but I would love to come back and see a game.