EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The El Paso Rhinos have a new home in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), one of the top junior hockey leagues in the country. The Rhinos announcing on Tuesday they will join the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) for the 2020-21 season and starting in 2021-22, they will put a team on the ice in the NAHL.
El Paso’s season in the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) was cut short in March due to COVID-19. After the season was canceled, ownership decided it was time for a change.
“Being in the NAHL has always been our goal,” said Rhinos head coach Cory Herman. “The NAHL brand, professionalism, and level of play is where we want our program to be. Joining the NAHL and NA3HL gives players two options and it helps our program grow.”
Herman and the Rhinos have been looking to make the switch to the NAHL for quite some time. From the NAHL’s perspective, El Paso is the perfect market to continue to build their brand of hockey.
“We are excited to add a new team like El Paso to the NAHL footprint,” said NAHL Commissioner and President Mark Frankenfeld. “We believe they have all the pieces in place for success, which includes great community support and involvement. The growth of hockey in the South has played a large role in our league’s success and the addition of the new team in El Paso continues to solidify the footprint and will create many new and exciting rivalries. With the addition of their NA3HL team, who will begin play in 2020-21, they have a great foundation for player development.”
“We are excited to continue our growth in the South Division with the addition of the El Paso Rhinos,” said NA3HL Commissioner Blake MacNicol. “The Rhinos have an established organization with a focus on player development and advancement, along with a rich tradition of community outreach and support. I think the passionate fans of the El Paso Rhinos will enjoy the brand of hockey the NA3HL will bring and also the new rivalries that will be established.”
The NA3HL is one of two USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III Junior leagues and the NAHL is the only USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier II Junior league. The primary goals of both the NA3HL and the NAHL are to adequately train players and provide resources—namely coaching, exposure and developmental vehicles—that will help them secure NCAA hockey scholarships.
“This is a huge step up,” said Herman. “The team that is coming next year, the North American 3 Hockey League team, it’s a step up from the level where we played last year in the WSHL. The North American Hockey League team, that’s the best players. Just this season, they’ve had over 300 NCAA commitments and they’re getting guys drafted in the NHL. That’s the real deal.”
It goes even further. Over the course of the last five seasons, over 1,500 NAHL players have made NCAA commitments and 30 have been drafted into the NHL. Herman is eager to introduce such a high caliber of talent to El Paso.
“The players in the NAHL are future NHL draft picks and Division I college hockey players,” said Herman. “It’s very exciting for our program to have that level of hockey in El Paso.”
In 2020-21, the Rhinos will play in the NA3HL’s South Division where their opponents include teams from Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. Like the WSHL’s series and season format, three-game series will be played on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Rhinos will play a 47-game regular season. At the conclusion of the regular season, the Fraser Cup Championship Tournament will crown the NA3HL’s playoff champion.