Technically, the El Paso Rhinos remain the two-time defending Thorne Cup champions in the Western States Hockey League. But the Rhinos are setting their sights on some new surname silverware beginning this fall: cups named Fraser and Robertson.

Last week the team announced its return to USA Hockey, as the Rhinos will move to the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) to compete for the Fraser Cup this fall, and the nation's only accredited Tier II league, the North American Hockey League, to compete for the Robertson Cup in 2021.

Head coach and team owner Cory Herman was kind enough to give an extended video interview to El Paso Townsquare (above).

Though the novel coronavirus remains a huge X-factor in any return to play, the NA3HL is planning to compete in 2020-21.

A combination of the virus, which prematurely ended this year's Thorne Cup playoffs before they began, and a mass exodus of teams moving to other leagues afterward, prompted the WSHL to shutter its doors for the upcoming season while it plots its next move.

But every Thorne has its rose, as it were.

Though Herman all but acknowledges in the interview that the groundwork for a return to the USA Hockey umbrella had begun months ago, the WSHL's decision to take this season off only strengthened El Paso's resolve to make the jump.

The WSHL and the Rhinos left USA Hockey for the United Hockey Union nine years ago after El Paso finished the 2010-11 season as silver medallists in the Tier III national championship.

How big a step up is it from the WSHL to the NAHL? Consider that there are NAHL alums who play in the NHL, alums with names like Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter and Phil Kessel.

Consider also that those are just three names of 73.

Fans will see future NHL talent in the El Paso County Events Center. The Rhinos must now step up their scouting to make sure some of that talent sits on the home bench.

After a whirlwind year that saw the team win its second straight championship and earn national recognition for its exhibitions against the Mexican junior national team on the NHL on NBC Sports and –– games that had layers of meaning dropped on them overnight after the August 3rd Walmart shooting –– the Rhinos have made huge strides in spreading the hockey gospel not just in El Paso, but internationally.

It's due in large measure to Herman, who came to El Paso with the old Buzzards of the WPHL, moved to the front office after concussions ended his playing career and took over the youth program, renaming and remaking hockey's image in the Sun City after the Buzzards' last owners did almost everything they could to sewer it.

There are plenty who have helped Herman along the way, including his former Buzzards' teammate Corey Heon, now the Rhinos' general manager; Herman's brothers Dave, who served as the Rhinos goalie coach and built the team's locker room, and Tom, who moved to El Paso after a multi-year pro career spent mainly in Germany; and Director of Operations Tyler Deloach, who basically created the position as she finished her undergraduate degree at Georgetown University in Washington DC before returning to her hometown.

You can see and hear Herman's gratitude during the interview for his co-workers and friends, other off-ice volunteers and game day personnel, many of whom were there during his playing days with the Buzzards.

The next step is big, but the El Paso Rhinos are resolute in their desire to take it.


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