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05/07/2012 10:12 AM -
El Paso Rhinos Sign Mexico's National Team Goalie
By Stephen Heisler, JuniorHockey.com
The El Paso Rhinos are very excited to announce that Mexican National Team goalie Allan Cukier has agreed to terms with the team and will play for the Western States Hockey League team next season.
"Allan has great work ethic and will fit into our program nicely. Being born in Mexico City and playing on the Mexican National team at the World Junior Championships he will have the experience we are looking for in a goaltender," said Rhinos head coach Cory Herman. "He will be a great role model for a lot of our younger Hispanic players in our youth program."
WSHL Commissioner Ron White also welcomes Cukier to the league. "The WSHL is excited to see Cukier joining the El Paso Rhinos and overall the WSHL. Anytime a player with International Ice Hockey Federation championship level competition on his resume, especially one with such a good goaltending recording joins a league the results are significant," the commissioner said.
"We hope that Cukier's joining the WSHL will lead other internationally experienced players representing the newer Division II/III IIHF member countries to seek out opportunities to broaden their skills in the WSHL," White added. "With the ability to take eight imports per team, the WSHL has room for many of them to train and develop on our league."
The 18 year-old was born in Mexico but moved to Canada as a child. He played minor hockey within the Vancouver Thunderbirds program before getting the call to join Mexico's u18 team in 2010.
"In December 2010, while visiting family in Mexico, I was with my older cousin who introduced me to one of his friends who played on the men's national team. He said he would talk to the president of the Mexican Hockey Federation about me joining the u-18 team," Cukier said in an earlier interview. "About a month later I got an email from the head coach, Diego de la Garma, he described the u-18 program and asked me if I could send him a video of me playing in one of my games and if I was interested in joining the team. Once the video was sent he replied a couple of days later with an email saying that I had been selected for the IIHF u18 Division III World Championship in Monterrey, Mexico. That was the first of four World Championship appearances I had with Mexico."
In 2011, Mexico hosted the DIII Championships, where Cukier won all six games while posting a stellar .958 SV% and 0.80 GAA. The performance helped Mexico win the DIII championship and the team moved up to Division IIB for 2012.
Cukier suffered an injury during the pre-season try-outs for an Alberta club team that forced him sit out the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. He was able to recover in time for the trip to the World Championships.
Although Cukier and his team had a rough go of it at the 2012 Division IIB Championships (held in Estonia in December) and will return to Division III next year, Cukier proved to the world that he belongs at the level of play.
Cukier is looking forward to his first season in El Paso. "Being from Mexico, I'm very proud and honored to be playing in a city made up of mostly Hispanic people," the netminder said. "It's a great chance to be a role model for young Hispanic kids who would like to start playing hockey, seeing as there aren't too many players from Mexico playing at a high level to look up to."
Rhinos veteran sniper, and El Paso native, MichaeI Rivera is excited to have the Mexican goalie between the pipes. "I know that Cukier is really going to mean a lot to our community. He certainly will be a crowd favorite from day one." Rivera estimated that almost 85% of the youth players in the area are Hispanic and instantly be drawn to a player that represents Mexico in international competition.
Cukier is just happy to be a Rhino. "Being part of the Rhino organization is a privilege. I'm very excited to be a part of it, and will give everything I have to help the team succeed in any way I can, both on and off the ice," Cukier said. "The team is the main priority, I'll always put the logo on the front ahead of the name on the back as long as I'm in a Rhino uniform."
Rivera told JuniorHockey.com that growing up in El Paso as a Hispanic hockey player raised a lot of eyebrows. "I heard a lot of ‘Oh wow you play hockey.’ People do not expect to see a Hispanic hockey player. Cukier will bring a lot of attention to our team, and entire hockey program, so we are really happy to have him."
Cukier is also committed to bringing a championship to El Paso. "My goals for the season are to improve my skill and knowledge about the game, have fun and enjoy every minute, and most importantly do anything I can to help the Rhinos be a championship team this year."
That should be music to the ears for any El Paso Rhinos supporter.