There will be several new faces in Rhino Country this season. Read more about some of them.
Most recently, the Rhinos signed Wisconsin forward Joe Roach to play his first year of junior hockey in the Sun City. During the latter part of his high school career, Roach played for the Northland Pines Eagles in the Wisconsin Prep League. In only 14 games, the 5’9 180 lbs. forward had a perfect “shots on goal” percentage and averaged nearly a point a game. In Northland’s first post-season game, Joe rounded out his season scoring with four points. The subsequent game ended in elimination for the Eagles and the team split the season with 11 wins and just as many losses.
Despite being one of the younger players on the 2015-2016 Rhino roster, Roach is ready for the elevated level of play. Very pleased with the coaching staff in El Paso, the Wisconsin native described them as “honest and…looking out for [his] best interest—looking to move [him] on to the next step.” Additionally, the player facilities and community support also were significant in his decision to travel to Texas. “I chose the El Paso Rhinos because I feel that it is the best place for me to improve my skills and move to the next level.”
Although he proved his accuracy in his last season as a high school player, Roach doesn’t see that as his most laudable playing quality. “My best attribute as a hockey player is digging for the puck, never giving up, creating opportunities for my teammates, and always finding a way to win,” he notes. Described as a leader, the centerman is also a notable team player who is extremely motivated off and on the ice. Planning ahead, Roach explains, “My hope is to move to [the] USHL and play college puck while earning a business degree that I can apply after hockey takes me as far as my talent will allow.”
With the season’s start over a month away, Joe’s excitement is building. “I am looking forward to playing for a much bigger crowd, and using everything that this organization offers to me so that I can help this team win and also help advance myself and my teammates to the next level.” He is also ready to live in a larger city, build new relationships, find a local church community, and experience winter temperatures above zero.
Humble and determined, Roach’s gratitude is an important element of his success. “I will never forget how blessed I am and how I got where I am, always giving thanks to those who helped me along the way.”
The El Paso Rhinos have signed Canadian defenseman Austin Grawbarger to help protect the blue line during the 2015-2016 campaign to win back the Thorne Cup. The 6’4”, 190 lb. defenseman is a bruising hitter with a penchant for mixing it up -- with a total of 213 penalty minutes in 118 games played in the Greater Metro Hockey League in Canada.
The Newmarket, Ontario native is far from a one way player, however. In three seasons in the GMHL – one with the Bobcaygeon Bucks and two with the Bradford Rattlers – Grawbarger tallied 104 points in his 118 games. In his most recent season with the Rattlers, Grawbarger also served as the alternate captain and looks forward to bringing those same leadership skills to El Paso.
“I will be there to motivate every player and be the guy that coaches and players look to if they need me in tough situations,” said Grawbarger.
Much like recent signing Kristians Zelts, Grawbarger is looking forward to his arrival in El Paso -- and the beginning of the Rhinos season -- in order to fully grasp the rabidity of the Rhinos fan base that he has heard so much about.
“I am looking forward to having such great support from the El Paso fans and I can’t wait to play in front of such a great crowd. I am excited to play for a new team, in such an amazing environment,” said Grawbarger. “It will be the experience of a lifetime.”
Grawbarger continues to work and spend all of his off-time working out and conditioning prior to his move to El Paso later this summer. The Rhinos are excited to add Austin to the family and look forward to welcoming him when he arrives.
- Jason Green
The El Paso Rhinos have announced the signing of 6’1”, 190 lb. forward Kristians Zelts from Riga, Latvia. Zelts is a highly skilled, speedy forward who spent last season in Latvia and Norway with eight points in 16 games. A prolific scorer, Zelts has amassed 130 goals in 104 games since beginning his youth hockey career in 2009.
Zelts comes to El Paso with the stated goal of wanting to improve his skills on the ice in order to not only improve as an individual but also to “bring the title back to El Paso.” Zelts is a left-handed shooter with a very large social media presence and an even larger personality. There is no doubt that he will quickly become a fan favorite for his goal scoring prowess and charm.
The excitement within the Rhinos fan-base to have another great young talent in the mix is definitely reciprocated according to Kristians Zelts.
“I have heard that El Paso has the best fans in the WSHL,” said Zelts. “So, I am definitely looking forward to seeing all of the fans.”
Zelts is grateful for the opportunity to join the El Paso Rhinos and looks forward to arriving in America very soon.
“I want to say thanks to Pierre (Rhinos Director of Recruiting, Pierre-Luc Racette) and Cory (Head Coach Cory Herman) for bringing me in and I want to say thanks to my parents for supporting me through this.”
While playing last season in Latvia and Norway, Zelts was attending school. When his time with the El Paso Rhinos is through, he hopes to leave El Paso with a Thorne Cup – and a chance to continue his education while playing hockey at an NCAA school.
The Rhinos have just inked Latvian forward Ruslans Ignatovics. Born in 1995, Ignatovics will be one of the more seasoned players on the ice because of his age and experience. Since 2011 the forward has played several levels of hockey in his hometown. Between 2012 and 2015, Ruslans competed with HK Riga in the MHL A, arguably the best major junior league in Europe. He also appeared in 11 international games for his home country of Latvia where his team won a bronze medal last season.
Ruslans’ talent is supplemented with his attitude and work ethic. An intelligent player, the Latvian forward is also very aggressive despite his 5’7 160 lbs. frame. With HK Riga, he had mostly a defensive style of play, however he was also a solid centerman with great speed. Director of Recruiting Pierre-Luc Racette describes Ignatovics as a “good skater, effective on his faceoff win percentage that can play a very effective 2 way game.” Racette adds, “Our coaches will be able to send him out for offensive or defensive missions.”