Western States Hockey League

Western States Hockey League: Expectations high for Colorado Evolution in first year

Western States Hockey League: Expectations high for Colorado Evolution in first year

By Brian Lester

Although the Colorado Evolution will be new to the Western States Hockey League this season, it has no intentions of being an average team.

John Kopperud, the head coach and general manager of the Evolution, said he and his staff have hit the ground running in preparation for the team’s inaugural run in the league.Colorado Evolution,Western States Hockey League,WSHL,USA Junior Hockey

The Evolution hosted a camp the last weekend in June and have also hit the recruiting trail hard. Colorado’s main tryout camp is scheduled for August.

“We’ve gone to several showcases and have gotten a lot of interest from players,” Kopperud said. “We’ve also made connections with overseas players and we feel good about the progress we have made.”

Kopperud said he is hoping to find players who want to play at the highest level in the long run.

“We really want guys who want to move up to higher levels of junior hockey and who want to be Division 1 hockey players,” Kopperud said. “We want success in the win-loss column, too, but the most important thing is to move guys up to the next level.”

Expectations will be high for the Evolution even though the league is one of the best in the country. Competition is fierce but Kopperud is confident Colorado can establish itself as one of the better teams in the WSHL.

“We want to be a playoff team, but we are hoping to do even better than that,” Kopperud said. “We’d really like to be the last team standing. I know that will be extremely tough to do in this league because it’s so good, but we want to have high goals. Even if we don’t accomplish that goal, if we can move a lot of our players on, the season will be a success.”

 

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Butte Cobras excited about building community relationships

 El Paso Rhinos look back on double championship year

Loyalty speaks volumes for Salt Lake City Moose

Western States Hockey League: Butte Cobras excited about building community relationships

Western States Hockey League: Butte Cobras excited about building community relationships

By Cody Warner

The Butte Cobras will become the 29th team to join the ranks of the Western States Hockey League at the beginning of the 2014-2015 season.

Team owner Michael Burks decided to bring a team to the Butte, Mont., community after his enjoyable experience getting to know the people through the Butte location of Fuel Fitness and Nutrition.Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Butte Cobras,Michael Burks,USA Junior Hockey

Burks currently owns the Missoula Maulers, another WSHL team in Montana. He says his experience over eight years with the Maulers has helped him quite a bit.

“I have learned a ton of things to do and not to do throughout that time, and I will be using that knowledge to try to eliminate those problems that I have encountered in the past,” Burks said.

He hopes to emulate the success and planning that has helped him in his tenure with Missoula. One thing he is especially excited to bring to Butte is the community aspect of the Cobras.

“The team will give as much as the community will allow us, with non-profit support as well as local school presentations,” Burks said.

The team being located in Butte is no matter of convenience or coincidence, either.

“I have always wanted to own a team in Butte,” Burks said. “Through Fuel Fitness and Nutrition, I have seen the incredible community support. I have also witnessed the incredible support for their local sports teams. I have no doubt that the Cobras will be welcomed with open arms.”

Adding to the community aspect of the organization, the team will play out of the Butte Community Ice Center.

Burks has brought in Jon Jonasson to be the head coach and general manager of the Cobras, and Greg Sousa as the director of recruiting.

Jonasson brings over 10 years of coaching experience to the organization including measured success at the junior level with the Steele County Blades (Minnesota Junior Hockey League). Sousa comes with Jonasson from the Blades and hopes to continue the success they have accomplished together.

 

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El Paso Rhinos look back on double championship year

El Paso Rhinos win Thorne Cup championship

Loyalty speaks volumes for Salt Lake City Moose

Western States Hockey League: El Paso Rhinos look back on double championship year

Western States Hockey League: El Paso Rhinos look back on double championship year

By Brian Lester

The El Paso Rhinos have consistently been one of the best teams in the Western States Hockey League, but the Rhinos took their success to another level this year.

Western States Hockey League,WSHL,El Paso Rhinos,Cory Herman,USA Junior HockeyIn April, the Rhinos capped a spectacular season by winning the United Hockey Union National Championship in Las Vegas, a title that came on the heels of El Paso’s first Thorne Cup championship in franchise history.

“We’ve never done it before. It’s a very big accomplishment,” El Paso head coach Cory Herman said. “It took us eight years to finally do it, and it feels great. We always set high goals, and it was great to see the guys experience this. They worked hard all year for it.”

Western States Hockey League,WSHL,El Paso Rhinos,Cory Herman,USA Junior HockeyThe Rhinos capped their championship run with a 6-3 win over fellow WSHL powerhouse the Idaho Jr. Steelheads, the defending national champion. Interestingly enough, the Rhinos also beat the Steelheads to win the Thorne Cup.

However, beating Idaho wasn’t easy. In fact, El Paso trailed 2-0 early before grabbing the momentum in a three-goal second period. The Rhinos held a 21-5 edge in shots and got goals from Jack Strusz, Peter Plesa and Andrew Bradford in the second as they went in front 3-2.

“We always seem to start slow, but Idaho is a well-coached and talented team,” Herman said. “I told the guys to be patient and that we would run four lines out there and wear them out. It worked well. It was a game between two very good teams and we knew we would have to play our best to beat them.”

Plesa added a second goal later in the game while Drew De Palma and Chris Wilhite also scored in the win. Bryce Fink, the MVP of the Thorne Cup tournament, made 20 saves.

El Paso opened the national tournament with a 3-1 win over the Jersey Shore Wildcats but fell 3-2 in a shootout to Idaho on the second day. The Rhinos bounced back with an 8-3 win over the Soo Firehawks. They defeated the Firehawks a second time by a 12-2 score to earn a date with Idaho in the final.

“At the beginning of the year, one of our goals was to win a national championship,” Herman said. “It’s a testament to the guys that we won it. They put in the work on and off the ice to accomplish it. I’m proud of their effort.”

El Paso went 44-2 in the regular season and won all nine of its games in the WSHL playoffs. Herman said his team continued to get better as the playoffs wore on. He also thought his team worked well together during its championship runs in the WSHL and at nationals.

“Our guys followed our system and worked hard,” Herman said. “We always had different players step up. We didn’t have to rely on one or two guys to carry us. It was that way throughout the playoffs.”

While winning the national championship was the ultimate highlight for the Rhinos, being able to win a Thorne Cup at home was quite a thrill as well.

“It was a great feeling to win it in front of our home fans,” Herman said. “It was a big accomplishment for us and a great experience for our players. I told our guys that no matter what, no one can take away your championships. They stay with your forever.”

El Paso defeated the three-time defending champion Steelheads, 7-2, to raise the cup.

“Idaho is always good. They have a great organization,” said Herman. “It took a great effort to beat them, and we are proud of our accomplishment.”

The Rhinos seemed to improve each game, and Herman said that was a key to success.

“During the playoffs, it seemed like we played well in every game, and we always got better each time out,” Herman said. “I thought our last game against Idaho was the best game we played in the [WSHL playoffs]. Our guys played great for 60 minutes.”

Defensemen Kalvis Ozols and Wilhite, along with forwards Austin Hoff, David Nelson and Plesa, earned spots on the all-tournament team, while the MVP Fink played in six games and gave up only 12 goals. He racked up 155 saves.

“Our guys followed our system and worked hard,” Herman said. “We always had different players step up. We didn’t have to rely on one or two guys to carry us. It was that way throughout the playoffs.”

El Paso’s reputation as a junior hockey franchise was solid even before it won the national championship. The Thorne Cup and National Championship merely add to the reputation.

“We’ve been consistent in our success and players can see that,” Herman said. “They see how we develop guys and they want to come here and play. Players want to be part of a winning program that has a great tradition, and winning a national championship will definitely help with our recruiting.”

 

Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives

El Paso Rhinos win Thorne Cup championship

Loyalty speaks volumes for Salt Lake City Moose

Oklahoma City Blazers ready to set league aflame this fall

Cheyenne Stampede: Ballard excited about new coaching opportunity

Cheyenne Stampede: Ballard excited about new coaching opportunity

By Brian Lester

Eric Ballard is no stranger to the Western States Hockey League.

The new head coach of the Cheyenne Stampede spent four seasons in Fresno, including one season as the head coach and general manager of the Monsters.

Cheyenne Stampede,Western States Hockey League,Eric Ballard,USA Junior Hockey MagazineBallard is also familiar with the city of Cheyenne, as he lives just an hour away in northern Colorado.

“It’s a great opportunity for me. Everything lined up just right for me to take it,” Ballard said. “The hiring process happened pretty smoothly. I met with general manager Mark Lantz and we agreed to a deal. It’s very exciting. I’m looking forward to building a great team there.”

Ballard said Cheyenne already has all of the key components in place to be successful at the junior hockey level, including a strong fan base, good management and good facilities.

Having been involved with a successful WSHL team in Fresno, Ballard is simply looking to add to what is already in place as the Stampede looks to become a regular contender in the league.

“There are some avenues I can show them that maybe weren’t thought of before in terms of fundraising and adding to the success,” Ballard said. “This is the first time in my career I’ve actually been hired to be a head coach of a team. I’m looking forward to just focusing on the players and helping them to be successful.”

Ballard, who spent last season on the coaching staff for the University of Colorado’s American Collegiate Hockey Association club team, said he has an idea about the type of players he wants to bring in. It all starts with goaltending.

“You want to be able to build a team by starting between the pipes and working your way out,” Ballard said. “You need great goaltending to be successful and you also need to find players to fill roles. I want players who want to compete at a high level, and players who are willing to learn and be coached. I also want good character players.”

Ballard has watched as the WSHL has continued to solidify its reputation as one of the best leagues in junior hockey and he is expecting to put a team on the ice that can be one of the top teams in the league.

“The league has come a long way, and the bar has definitely been raised high,” Ballard said. “We want to be a winning team and make the playoffs, and we also want to give players a chance to move up. We have a good situation here and I am confident we will have success.”

 

Read past Cheyenne Stampede articles in our archives:

Eight nominated for Western States Hockey League all-star teams

Moving on up the standings after a big January

Western States League team stays busy preparing for Oct. 18 opener

Western States Hockey League: El Paso Rhinos win Thorne Cup championship

Western States Hockey League: El Paso Rhinos win Thorne Cup championship

By Brian Lester

El Paso ended the reign of dominance by Idaho in the Western States Hockey League this past weekend, capping a tremendous run in the Thorne Cup playoffs with a 7-2 win over the Steelheads, the three-time defending champions.

The Rhinos won all nine of their playoff games to punch a ticket to the United Hockey Union national tournament in Las Vegas later this month. Idaho, the defending national champions, will also play in the national tourney.Western STates Hockey League,WSHL,El Paso Rhinos,Cory Herman,USA Junior Hockey

“Idaho is always good. They have a great organization,” said El Paso head coach Cory Herman. “It took a great effort to beat them, and we are proud of our accomplishment.”

The Rhinos, who went 44-2 in the regular season en route to winning the Midwest Division title, seemed to improve each game, and Herman said that was a key to success.

“During the playoffs, it seemed like we played well in every game, and we always got better each time out,” Herman said. “I thought our last game against Idaho was the best game we played in the postseason. Our guys played great for 60 minutes.”

Western STates Hockey League,WSHL,El Paso Rhinos,Cory Herman,USA Junior HockeyOne of the keys to success was goalie Bryce Fink, who was named the MVP of the tournament.

Defensemen Kalvis Ozols and Chris Wilhite, along with forwards Austin Hoff, David Nelson and Peter Plesa, earned spots on the all-tournament team.

Fink played in six games and gave up only 12 goals. He racked up 155 saves.

Plesa dished out 12 assists in the tourney and tied for the team lead in points. Nelson scored seven goals and tallied three assists while Hoff came through with six goals and four assists.

Wilhite finished with four goals and 11 assists while Ozols tallied four goals and six assists.

“Our guys followed our system and worked hard,” Herman said. “We always had different players step up. We didn’t have to rely on one or two guys to carry us. It was that way throughout the playoffs.”

As for moving on to the national tourney, Herman likes his team’s chances.

“If we keep playing the way we have, we have an opportunity to do well,” Herman said. “It’s just a matter of sticking to our plan and continuing to play as hard as we have up to this point.”

 

Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Loyalty speaks volumes for Salt Lake City Moose

Oklahoma City Blazers ready to set league aflame this fall

Fresno Monsters committed to consistency