Just Chirp’n #7 2009-2010
October 21, 2009
by Michael Hissam
They’re b-a-a-a-ck! Finally. Por fin! Hockey in the desert.
Home opener weekend for the El Paso Rhinos couldn’t have a better matchup. The team that put the only number to the right of the hyphen on the 11-1 Rhinos’ record skates into town. The second-place Boulder Bison, eight points down to El Paso, will provide the competition during the opening festivities.
Psyched up? Rhino players can feel it. So can Coach Cory Herman. “We have a very faithful following. Some of them have gone on the road with us.
We appreciate every person who comes in the door. But, we going to have our work cut out for us. Boulder has made quite a few changes since the last time we saw them.
“We got to bring our ‘A’ game this weekend,” Herman declared. “We got to outwork them. If each of our guys outworks each of their guys, we’ll have success. It’s all about the ‘A’ game and hard work.”
When it comes to Rhino consistency, veteran goaltender Andrew Duff said, “We know what the coach expects of us, and that’s hard work. We veterans lead the ‘rooks.’ We keep our head in the game and don’t get rattled by anything.
Leading scorer Nick Gualano pointed out that the consistency results from the intense practices down at the rink. “We bring the energy from the weekday practices right into the weekend games. We do hit a lot during the practices.”
From the viewpoint of high-scoring forward Austin Balko, Rhino consistency has its roots in the coach “having us take one game at a time, one shift at a time. He really emphasizes having us practice the way we play a game. We go out there with the attitude of practicing harder than what the games will be. We feel we have the best goalies, defensemen and forwards in the league. We try to battle every drill and shift in practice. When we get to game time – of we practiced hard enough — it will come naturally.”
Gualano added, “We’re a very close team. My teammates, my linemates, you can’t ask for anything better.
From the goalie’s view – mask and all –, “they make my job easy. I look out there and they keep the puck away from me. I see only 20, tops 30 shots a game. If I have a bad rebound, there’s always someone to clear it away.” Duff declared.
Just off the ice there’s another element: the El Paso fans. “We have the best fans in the league, hands down!” said Balko. They wear the jerseys and tee-shirts, they bring the horns. They get our team pumped up, knowing we have all those supporters.”
Bison Coach Brent Cullaton knows about the El Paso fans. “When we get down there, it will be like playing two teams at the same time: the Rhinos on the ice and their fans in the stands. We discipline our guys not to get thrown by the fans.”
Cullaton added his team is fired up. “El Paso finished their checks, they play hard. We had a blast playing them to open the season.”
He also said he has brought in a few new guys “who want to compete. I was a hard-working player. That’s what I want from my players.”
Cullaton, who played pro hockey in Laredo and San Antonio, admitted he is looking a little beyond the games when he comes to El Paso: “Good Mexican food – pollo (chicken)!”
He may be on to something. As I have told many visitors, “We have the best cholesterol west of the Pecos!”
Nos vemos el viernes – see you Friday!