Chip off the old block
Colton Chipman took a leap of faith in an attempt to increase his exposure to NCAA schools.
The 18-year-old Niagara Falls native began his Grade 12 school year at Ridley College before hooking up with the El Paso Rhinos of the North American 3 Hockey League.
“We were practising at Ridley and it was going great and I miss it there, but I just felt I wasn’t getting exposure for next year,” Chipman said. “I talked to my agent and dad and came to the decision to try and find a place to showcase for the rest of the year.”
Chipman, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward, made the commitment to head south on a Sunday and by mid-week was headed for Texas.
“The El Paso Rhinos are going to have a team in the NAHL (North American Hockey League) next year so it presented a good opportunity,” said Chipman, whose father Doug is a former forward with the Niagara Falls Canucks. “We talked to them about next year and they told me to come here now and finish the year out and hopefully win a championship and next year it’s a good opportunity.”
Chipman is one of the younger players on the team but has more than held his own with seven goals and 10 points in 18 games with the Rhinos.
“The league has good and bad teams,” Chipman said. “I would say it’s little bit better than the junior B back home.
“It’s been great to compete against the older guys to complete and improve my hockey IQ. It’s been a good experience.”
Off the ice, Chipman is enjoying the experience. He billets with a local family and has had no problem getting used to the warm weather in the winter.
“You don’t think of hockey in El Paso but it’s a great experience,” he said. “At the games it’s all so professional. People love it and it’s almost like you are a celebrity down here.
“I can’t complain. They show a lot of support.”
Chipman said the Rhinos were caught in the middle of a recent rare snowstorm in the area that had unprepared locals scrambling.
The Rhinos were headed back from a road trip in Louisiana and ended up spending a night in a hotel without power. The 14-hour trip took almost a week.
“It was crazy,” he said. “My mom sent me a photo of all the snow at home and there was probably an inch of snow here!”
The Rhinos play their home games at the County Events Center, a 6,500-seat arena located within the El Paso County Coliseum Complex, only minutes from the Mexican border.
The organization was a originally member of the Amateur Athletic Union-sanctioned Western States Hockey League from 2006 to 2020. They plan on adding a Tier II team to the South Division of the North American Hockey League in the 2021–22 season.
Chipman had the blessing of Ridley Prep Boys hockey coach Mike McCourt to make the move.
“Mike is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Chipman said. “On and off the ice he’s helpful. He’s the first person I called when I made this decision.
“I love Ridley. It’s been an amazing year-and-a-half there and I did not want to leave. He told me to go. It was a good opportunity and hopefully win a championship and then come back and win one with Ridley.”
McCourt has high praise for Chipman.
“Colton has made immense strides during his time at Ridley,” McCourt said. “He is a passionate and driven student athlete who has thrived in this environment. He has excelled in the classroom and displayed steady and consistent growth on the ice. Colton has a knack for finding the back of the net and utilizes his size to his advantage.”
Chipman, who continues his school work at Ridley remotely, has a long-range goal of garnering an NCAA Division 1 scholarship.
“This is a good step towards that,” he said.
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