Just Chirp’n 2

Just Chirp’n # 2  2010-2011
Sept. 8, 2010

by Michael Hissam

Four years ago this month the first El Paso Rhino team took to the ice in an exhibition game.  No one had great expectations.  Word around the rink was those guys were castoffs from various teams.  Think “expansion” teams as in the 1962 New York Mets or the 1999 Cleveland Browns.

So much for under promising; the Rhinos scored double digits.  Hockey returned to El Paso.  The Rhinos over-delivered and took over first place for that season, the following season, the following season and the following season.

Fans love a winner.  Players love a winner.

That winning tradition goes a long way when it comes to recruiting the better players to the frontera, according to Trevor Converse, director of player personnel for the Rhinos.  “In the summer I travel to the North American Hockey League (NAHL) camps.  My contacts at that next level like sending players to us because we have a track record of success and moving players on. They don\’t mind sending their guys to us.”

What Converse and ultimately Coach Cory Herman have for a recruiting strategy depends on the given situation into the summer.  “We were looking on loading up on forwards,” Converse said.  “We lost high-end forwards after last season.  We look for the most skilled players to compete.  Most guys we get are close to the next level NAHL.  They may lack one or two things.”

Converse wasted no time addressing an issue that tends to raise the ire of Coach Herman:  “We want players who back check. We want players who compete away from puck.  If a player doesn\’t do those well we get them with the coach and he will bring out the part of the game that will bring them to the next level.  We work with the skill — “best player” — types who may not have been held accountable to back check.  When we get them here, it is both ends of the ice!”

Welcome to the coach’s world of “hard work!”  While we’re still trying to figure out the musical key of his whistle during practice, players figure it out fast.

Converse talks to the parents during the recruiting process.  He points out that it is an experience to play in junior hockey, especially for kids moving away for the first time.  “That they are in good hands with a stable organization that is going to be around and they get treated exceptionally well here. The fan and community support is outstanding.  It is a great experience that the kids are going to have in El Paso.
Most of the younger kids will be here for a year and we can move them on.  They learn to live away from home. They learn to be in and out of the lineup.  They will learn intangibles while they are having success.

“We under promise and over deliver.  We have a lot of things that other organizations do not have.  When players first get here they are overwhelmed with fan support and booster club.  Throw in the new training center, and it can be quite an experience.”

Moments after an intra-squad game last weekend, Converse said his message to the fans is, “you are going to be excited. We have a lot of high-end skill players and they all compete.  This should be a fun year.”

Converse as a player did quite well for himself professionally, having made it to the American Hockey League with Hershey and Baltimore and the old Internationally League with Long Beach.