Though they stumbled in Friday’s season opener, call the El Paso Rhinos first weekend series of the 2009-2010 season a success.
El Paso’s normally potent offense was slow to start but has amped up as the weekend progressed against new Mid-West Division foe, the Boulder Bison, in Boulder, CO.
The three-time defending Mid-West champs lost Friday night, 5-2, the Rhinos countered with a 5-3 win Saturday and an 8-2 win Sunday to quickly move to 2-1-0.
The Alaska connection of Navarone Copley and Ben Henne each notched three goals on the weekend. Henne, a 5-8, 185-pound block of ice from North Pole, AK, scored twice Saturday and once Sunday against the Bison. Fairbanks native Copley, a dominating 6-2, 190-pound forward, scored a hat trick Sunday.
Returning forward Austin Balko also got a couple of goals, scoring the first of the season for El Paso Friday night and getting another in Saturday’s win.
After a disappointing outing, allowing five goals in Friday’s loss, returning netminder Andrew Duff was solid, allowing only five goals the rest of the weekend. The Brighton, MI, native along with a number of returning defensemen have head coach Cory Herman optimistic headed into the season.
“All of our “D” and our goaltender spent a lot of time with us last season,” says Herman. “We had a slow start, but the defense performed pretty well all weekend. We’re winning races to the puck and we’re very relentless on the forecheck.
“We need to be better on our special teams, though. They still aren’t where they should be.”
The El Paso Rhinos have won the Mid-West Division in all three of the seasons they’ve been a part of the Western States Hockey League, a Junior A Tier III league, winning the WSHL’s Thorne Cup in 2008. Along with returning franchises – the Tulsa Rampage and the San Antonio Diablos – the Mid-West Division also features two new teams, the Bison and the New Mexico Renegades.
The Rhinos will return in time for class tomorrow before heading to San Antonio to take on the Diablos next weekend. El Paso will meet Boulder again in its first home series of the season, Oct. 23-25, at the Sierra Providence Events Center. For season tickets and information, call the Rhinos front office at 915.479.PUCK (7825), or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.