Rhinos Face Bison with Trip to Thorne Cup Finals on the Line [VIDEO]
In the seven seasons the El Paso Rhinos have been at this game, only once have they failed to advance out of the Western States Hockey League conference playoffs. That was three years ago.
The team that dumped the Rhinos out of the Thorne Cup Playoffs in 2010 is the same one that will be back in El Paso trying to repeat that performance this weekend -- the Boulder Bison. And the stakes are virtually the same -- a trip to the Thorne Cup Frozen Four in McCall, ID, awaits the series winner.
Both the Rhinos and Bison swept their playoff-opening series -- El Paso beat Phoenix last weekend while Boulder was shutting out Cheyenne in both games. And, though the Rhinos cruised to their seventh straight regular season championship pacing the Mountain Conference by 13 points, El Paso head coach Cory Herman remembers the last time his team got a little ahead of itself going into a conference final.
"Boulder has a very solid team, they work very hard and they're coached very well," said Herman. "We'll need to have a solid 60 minute effort in each game we play to be successful this weekend."
The signs are there. A month ago, the Bison became the first visiting team to beat the Rhinos in regulation on their home ice, rebounding from a 3-0 shutout in the first game of a three-game series to pummel El Paso, 4-1, the next night.
The Rhinos won the rubber match, but it went to the ninth frame of a shootout before El Paso prevailed, 4-3. It was also the only time the Rhinos gave up three points of a possible six in a series to any opponent at home.
Add the fact that Boulder has a better road record (15-6-1-1) than home record (14-8-0-1) and the sum, according to Herman, is that his team needs to be ready for a dogfight.
"Playoff hockey is different than in the regular season," he said. "Everything is that much more amped up so every decision you make is that much more important. It's very important that you take one shift at a time. We need to follow our system and do what we do best."
If the sweep of the Phoenix Knights is any indication, it means the Rhinos are ready to hit. Aggressive, physical hockey has been El Paso's bread and butter all season long, even when the Rhinos are killing penalties.
El Paso's special teams were among the top five in the league during the regular season but, more than power play percentage or penalty killing success, one stat in particular jumps off the page when looking across the league: the Rhinos scored 39 shorthanded goals this season, three times the number of the next closest team (Idaho had 13).
It's one stat the Boulder Bison might want to pay attention to. In the aforementioned three-game series, Boulder gave up three shorthanded goals to the Rhinos, including two in one game (see video below).
Should make for some great playoff hockey beginning Friday night.
Tickets are available at the El Paso County Coliseum box office. Games One and Two of the best-of-three series are Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. MDT and Game Three is Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., if necessary.
Check out what happened the last time these teams met -- highlights from El Paso's thrilling nine-frame 4-3 shootout win over Boulder.