Just Chirp’n 20

Just Chirp’n #20 (2009-2010)
January 14, 2010
by Michael Hissam

This season’s defining 20-minutes for the El Paso Rhinos may be best stated by what happened in the second period of last Saturday’s game against Boulder.

They came back from a 3-0 deficit, and on to win the game.

At the end of the first period, fans were astounded; the proverbial, “take the fans out of the game” was happening in El Paso – the place where the scoreboard just about always has the home team out front.

It took eleven seconds into the second period for the Rhino fireworks to begin.

What in the world did Rhino coach Cory Herman say to these guys?  “I told them the only good thing about the first period was that 40 minutes remained in the game.”

Even Boulder Coach Brent Cullaton was nowhere near glee when his team took to the shiny ice to open the second stanza.  “You’re going to see a different El Paso team come out on the ice.  I know how Cory Herman thinks,” he told me as the door to the ice swung open.

Maybe we ought to consult with Cullaton about tonight’s lottery numbers.


That line by Paul Newman in Slapshot will live in its own infamy.  At the Rhinos’ level of hockey, it’s part of a player’s reason for being in El Paso del Norte now – aiming for the next level of this game.

Mark Ostapina, head hockey coach of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, saw the Rhinos first hand at last month’s showcase in Las Vegas as part of his continuous scouting mission.  “I recruit what I don’t want to defend against,” he said. “I’m looking for hockey intelligence, hockey sense and character on- and off the ice.”

Ostapina knows what the Rhino organization can do concerning those attributes.  He coaches former Rhino top scorers Nick Gorup and Jeffery Schmudlach.  “Junior-A cuts them out of the pack.  I look for input from their coaches and others.  I look at their ability to perform.  Production is the key to making things happen – it’s not just lighting the lamp.  I look for three-zone players.”

Skating – something all too many fans assume as a given – takes another dimension when it comes to scouts.  “These guys train their whole life.  I look for efficiency and power in the stride.  ‘Pretty’ is not needed.  Look at what the Russians brought to the game:  choppy but powerful when it comes to getting from Point A on the ice to Point B.  I saw better skating at this year’s showcase than the last.”

Ostapina credited the Rhinos as “a first-class operation that instills winning concepts and that leads to winning players.  Teams that don’t win are those with habits that perpetuate losing.  These guys know their work ethic – the sweat equity to win.”

He noted that “age out” players who do not land spots with varsity teams at the collegiate level may wish to consider club teams at other schools.  “With 300 club teams at NCAA schools in the United States, there are plenty of places to play, to get an education and to keep enjoying hockey.”

His graduates included Dwayne Roloson, skating in the “show” at age 39 with the NHL’s New York Islanders.

Ostapina’s reminder to aspiring players:  Get the academic credentials.  “Ninety percent of the players I watch I cannot get into my school.  Take care of the academics.  If you fail there, you limit your opportunities.”