Weeks after the El Paso Rhinos announced they would be competing in the Fall despite not being associated with a league, the North American Hockey League (NAHL) announced that its Board of Governors approved the membership application for the Rhinos.
The El Paso Rhinos will compete in the South Division beginning in the 2021-22 season and play out of the El Paso County Events Center.
The team will also join the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) for the 2020-21 season. Subsequently, starting in 2021-22, the Rhinos will have teams in both the NA3HL and the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
“The Rhino franchise has modeled their objectives after the NAHL excellent level of play, commitment to players' career advancement and personal development, and the league's overall business professionalism. As an organization and ownership group, we believe that the step to the NAHL will facilitate the growth and development of the Rhinos’ program and athletes, and in turn, help the organization continue to expand and succeed in the years to come,” said Rhinos Owner and Head Coach Cory Herman.
The NAHL has had a team in the Southern part of the United States since 1999 and the South Division first was formed in 2003. The division currently has eight teams competing in the NAHL: Amarillo Bulls (Amarillo, TX), Corpus Christi IceRays (Corpus Christi, TX), Kansas City Scouts (Shawnee, KS), Lone Star Brahmas (North Richland Hills, Texas), New Mexico Ice Wolves (Albuquerque, NM), Odessa Jackalopes (Odessa, TX), Shreveport Mudbugs (Shreveport, LA), and Wichita Falls Warriors (Wichita Falls, TX). El Paso will be the ninth team in the South Division of the NAHL starting in the 2021-22 season.
“We are excited to add a new team like El Paso to the NAHL footprint. We believe they have all the pieces in place for success, which includes great community support and involvement,” said NAHL Commissioner and President Mark Frankenfeld. “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.”
The NA3HL is also looking forward to adding its 32nd team to the league. “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. 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. 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 of the where their opponent list will 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 also will play a 47-game regular-season, playoffs, and possibly in the FraserCup Championship Tournament, which crowns the NA3HL's playoff champion.