Here to Stay
Jan. 18, 2012
El Paso, TX – A weekend series can tell you a lot about the state of a team. It only takes three games to see where a team’s mindset is, if their heart is in the game, and how they respond to adversity. Anybody who saw what the El Paso Rhinos did this weekend was given a clear message: this team isn’t going anywhere. The New Year has been a breath of fresh air for horned noses after losing three of their last four games to close out 2011, a spark was lit and they’ve won five of their first six to start 2012. Their most recent challengers were the New Mexico Renegades.
After a tough blow to start the series on Thursday with a 3-2 shootout loss, the Rhinos came back with a vengeance. Winning 4-1 on Friday and 11-2 on Saturday, they sent the Renegades packing like church boys going on retreat with humble hearts. El Paso controlled the tempo of the game, forced New Mexico to play out of their style of comfort, and capitalized on the chances they were given.
However, these games did not come without some disgusting displays of immaturity. The typically disciplined Renegades became less and less self-controlled as the series progressed. Game one they had only 14 penalty minutes and in game two they nearly doubled it with 35. The shock came in game three though where they racked up 58 penalty minutes in their 60 minutes of gameplay with 22 of those minutes coming on Abuse of the Officials infractions (with Michael Pisarevsky being responsible for 20 of them). The Rhinos weren’t angels either as they had more than a game’s worth of penalty minutes as well tallying 83 on the weekend, 10 of them from Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalties. With all of these penalties, the series looked more like prison pond hockey than anything else.
Good news for the Rhinos though is that cooler-but-still-heated heads prevailed and they have solidified the fact that they are on the right track, although they definitely have some growing up to do. Just a tip: when you’re given a penalty regardless of what you think about it, sit down, stop jawing, do your time, and move on. The only thing you will achieve in arguing with the officials and acting like a child is getting a bigger timeout which not only hurts you, but your team. Be a man, act like an adult, and serve your time. The best payback is always when you get out of the box and talk-back on the scoreboard.
Aside from penalty issues, El Paso had a lot going for them in all three games despite Thursday’s loss. They moved the puck well, took advantage of opportunities given on Friday and Saturday, and got their opponents to abandon their MO. Pushing a team into playing individual hockey instead of team hockey will open up a lot of options. You can find more gaps on the ice because players aren’t covering their assignments and that sparks scoring chances. New Mexico reverted to rec-style hockey and paid the price for it.
The big thing to keep in mind for El Paso is tenacity. After suffering losses like they did before the vacation, and winning as they did Friday and Saturday, they should understand just how different games can be when they make good on scoring chances. When they make clean passes, stay out of the box, and don’t force bad shots, this team is unstoppable. So what did this weekend tell us about the Rhinos? They are looking to send a clear message that they are back and not willing to lay down for anybody. And while they still have some residual disciplinary distractions to take care of, they have left behind the team of 2011 with the determination to go for it all in the second half of the season. Up next, the Park City Moose travel to Texas in what should be another big weekend for the home team if they can play up to their ability.
Matt Prosser, El Paso Rhinos Beat Writer for JuniorHockey.com. Matt is a freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. For the past two seasons he has been the voice of California State University, Sacramento Hockey and is the host of The Sports Cycle with Matt Prosser on KSSU 1580AM in Sacramento and KSSU.com. His other broadcasts also include Hornets football, baseball, and softball. To get in touch with Matt for comments and writing ventures please e-mail him at MProsser58@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @kssuMattProsser or visit his website: www.kssusportscycle.com.