09/23/2009 11:27 AM - Just Chirp’n #3 2009-2010 (week of Sept. 21, 2009)
by Michael Hissam
That season opener in Boulder, Colorado wasn’t supposed to turn out that way. For the first time, the El Paso Rhinos lost a season-opening contest. The Boulder Bison began their Western States Hockey League existence with a “W.” For the first time, the Rhinos saw the basement. It wouldn’t take them long to get out of those confines with a two-game rebote (rebound).
“Boulder played well to a packed house in their first-ever game. They got 80 to 90 percent of loose pucks. We just weren’t working hard,” declared El Paso Coach Cory Herman.
“Hard work,” Herman’s usual reply to any question about Rhino game strategy, would return to dampen any Colorado Rocky Mountain high as his team rebounded for victories in the second and third games. “We got humbled right away. Our veterans are used to winning. The lesson learned is we have to out work every team. We worked really hard in the second and third games. The work ethic is there.”
Herman won’t have it any other way.
He added “relentless” to describe the work shown by first-year right winger Michael Vallier, part of the “energy line.”
Vallier, 19, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, said he and forward line mates Andrew Alpsteg and Ben Henne, “are clicking a lot better – getting used to each other. We are emotional players; we want to pop those pucks in and bring energy to the team.”
What changed from Game 1? Vallier pointed to determination. “We refused to be pushed around in the second and third games. We grabbed the bull by the horns.”
Herman preferred not to describe his lines by the traditional, “first, second, third, fourth.” He’ll use “color-coded” or the job demanded of each set of forwards, with a rotating group of defensemen for support. Returning vets Nick Gualano and Austin Balko join newcomer Navarone Copley on one scoring line. Donald Geary, John Redmond and Timothy Avegard – all first year Rhinos – also get the, “Put numbers up!” assignment on the other scoring line. Both of those lines also know the bench boss expects them to play some “D” in their end and not get scored upon.
Anthony Knuth, Trevor Erickson and David Fegler, all Rhino vets, front the checking line. Anytime the opposition sends out the top guns, these guys will be out to “shut them down,” according to the coach.
Vallier and the energy gang, according to Herman, “needs to hit and to go out and change the momentum when it starts to go against El Paso.”
Having four solid lines helps prevent the team from running out gas by the third game in three days.
On the road again: Down I-10, just past the Hill Country reside the San Antonio Diablos, hosts to the Rhinos this weekend. Diablo Coach Zac Desjardins said this year’s team is more blue-collar. “We will compete and work hard everyday.”
San Antonio lost all three to Tulsa to begin Desjardins’ tenure. His team has only one veteran, that being defenseman Cameron Hope. Coming off a “short bench,” for the opener, Desjardins has been looking for new talent prior to this weekend. Having caught the Rhinos’ internet video feed, he emphasized a more physical approach to take on what appears to be a larger Rhino team.
Desjardins said San Antonio players to watch include forwards J.P. Kascsak from Virginia and Matt Duffey from the former Colorado Outlaws. His blue line features Kevin Morrison from Austin.