Just Chirp’n 3

Just Chirp’n #3 2010-2011

Sept. 17, 2010

by Michael Hissam

They love the game. They are there every game night; and they’ll be back the following.  They worry about the players – some still think of them as kids, nearly their own.  Some even have offered to “billet” (that’s Canadian for renting out a bedroom at home for a hockey player) for the youngsters who have come to wear El Paso’s orange and black.

Having done radio “color” for seven years, I see them at every contest.  I can just about tell you where each sits.  They are the season ticket holders.

Yet having covered hockey in six leagues – five of them pro including the “Show,” there is something different about the aficionados in El Paso.  In essence they have formed a family – I call them the “hockey family.”

Anita Johndro is one of them.  She is a true paseña (El Pasoan).  A member of the Rhino booster club, she also gladly serves as an “ambassador” for one of America’s largest cities to parents of players and the skaters themselves, few of whom understand a spot on the map that is actually a poke check closer to San Diego than it is to Houston.

“The action!  That is what got me excited about hockey.  It is a sport that has a lot more action than most sports I have seen.  I have been a season ticket holder for the Rhinos since day one.”

Johndro’s enthusiasm for the sport goes back to the Buzzard days in the old ice house.  “I now go to every single game for the excitement.  Yes, we have a ‘hockey family.’  We all love hockey, we have known each other since the Buzzard days – and that’s years”

She reflected on the family angle:  “We like doing things for the boys.  I have a son who is about the same age.  They are far away from home; we all like doing things for them.”

Doing things for the players means talking to the players’ parents, many of whom had never been to this metropolis of nearly three million out in the desert where three states and two countries come together.  “It’s very interesting to talk to the parents.  I don’t get to leave El Paso much.  They talk about where they are from, and it is interesting.  When we get to meet the parents, we sometimes get to show them around and tell them more about El Paso – the good and the bad.”

Johndro’s greatest hockey memory came with a great moment for the Rhinos – derailing Phoenix at the Polar Bears’ barn in 2008 to take the Western States Hockey League Thorne Cup championship.  “Traveling up to Phoenix; just the players knowing a lot of the fans were there.  They were happy, and it made us happy.  That was one trip I’ll never forget.”

Looking to the new season, she said, “I just want them to play good hockey.”

So do hundreds of other season ticket holders.

They make hockey especial here in the desert.

One week to go, fans.  Hockey is just about back. ¿Listo? (Ready?)

mjhissam@sbcglobal.net