Fans in El Paso have become used to the Rhinos making a playoff run each year when March comes around — one could say that it has become a bit of a tradition for the team and the city. The Rhinos have a bit of tradition of their own when it comes to the playoffs.
Sometime shortly before the beginning of the playoff series with the Dallas Snipers this weekend, the Rhinos will fill up the “playoff shrine” in their locker room. The shrine is a bin where each player will place an object that reminds them of what it is that they play for. When times get tough during the grueling playoff run, each player will have a visual reminder of what it is that they want to push through for.
By all accounts the tradition began with late assistant coach Murray Bates. Former Rhino star forward Nick Gorup was on the first Rhinos team and therefore was on the first team to fill up the bin in the locker room at the urging of Bates.
“It was his idea. He’s the one who decided that we should all put something together that we would want to play for,” said Gorup, “the first year we happened to do it was 07-08 and we won the league that year – so it just kind of stuck.”
Former Rhino defenseman Nick Wright participated in the tradition during his time on the team from 2011-2014, but says that the humble Bates never took credit for creating it.
“I was close with Murray but, he never actually took credit for that. He just said the boys that year started it,” said Wright, “that’s pretty standard for him – not taking credit.”
Apart from superstition – the team went 56-2-2 – the team continued the tradition for one even bigger reason. Midway through last season Bates passed away. All of a sudden the tradition that he began became even more significant to the members of the team. Wright was on the team when Bates passed away.
“With Murray passing, it was pretty emotional. It happened about a month and a half before we did the shrine – it was a big thing, a lot of us were playing for Murr. Nobody really joked around with it. It was super serious,” said Wright, “I put a beer bottle cap in because Murr had told me all year to come over with him and his wife – when you’re not a player anymore you can have a beer with me and sit down and eat. Well, I never got to do that. So that was my beer I never got to have with Murr.”
The objects placed into the bin are varied. There are no standards as long as the object means something to the player or coach who places it into the shrine. Objects placed in the first shrine ranged from pictures of friends and family to a roll of tape. After the first team who did it ended their season as the best Rhinos team to date – every Rhino team since has looked forward to placing their own items into the bin.
Forward Jonah Pearson is going to be participating in the event for the first time this season. He is looking forward to the effect that the bonding exercise is likely to have on the team.
“It’s going to be a good experience. It bonds the team together and let’s everyone know that they’re in it fully. Everyone’s on the same page,” said Pearson.
This year’s team is looking forward to taking part in the tradition and several players shared their motivational object prior to the team event. Pearson plans to honor his family with his submission.
“I’m going to put in my chain. It’s my grandpa’s chain. It reminds me of my family and the opportunity that I get down here,” said Pearson.
Forward Kendal Craig is participating for the third time this season. This season he is torn between two different objects to submit.
“I might do the ring from last year. I didn’t play much last year. I mean, I know you’re on the team and it’s good to win but, whenever you’re playing it makes a world of difference,” said Craig, “Then, I have a necklace that my mom gave me when I moved down here. Without her, I wouldn’t have ever played hockey.”
The playoff shrine has become a great tradition for the Rhinos and remains a great way to honor a man who has clearly had an effect on so many people. This season the objects will no doubt vary drastically once again – but, the winning tradition and the motivation that drives it remain unchanged.