Camryn Heon Diaz De Leon first stepped onto the ice to play hockey at about 4 years old.
Heon Diaz De Leon, who grew up going to every single NAHL El Paso Rhinos game from the time she was a baby, remembers she didn’t like anything about being on the ice. It was too cold, and it hurt too much when she fell on it. She didn’t know how to skate and was “just miserable,” said her dad, Corey Heon.
“She was out there for literally maybe 15 minutes and absolutely hated it,” said Heon, the general manager of the El Paso Rhinos.
A year or two later, she gave it another go when a friend’s dad took them to the rink in El Paso, Texas. Then, Heon Diaz De Leon noticed that there were a few other girls on the ice learning, too. That gave her some comfort that she could do it, too, and really got her interested in hockey.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for my childhood friends who started playing hockey when I did, I probably wouldn’t be where I am,” Heon Diaz De Leon said.
Now 17 years old, Heon Diaz De Leon — who has dual citizenship in Mexico and the United States — has developed quite a hockey career, having already played for Mexico’s junior and senior national teams.
Earlier this year, she won bronze with the Mexico women’s team in the Division II Group A Women’s World Championship in Mexico.
When she’s not playing internationally, Heon Diaz De Leon plays hockey at Culver Girls Academy, a boarding school in Indiana.
But she got her start in her hometown of El Paso, watching the Rhinos and developing her game as a defenseman starting at about 5 or 6 years old. She played with boys until the U16 level before training with the national team in Mexico and playing U16 with a girls’ team in Colorado.
Heon Diaz De Leon lists her speed, aggressiveness, competitiveness and her shot as her top features as a player. She’s also well-conditioned and plays 30-32 minutes a game, “which is unheard of,” Heon said.
Heon always hoped his daughter would play hockey.
“But I never in a million years thought she would have gone this far,” Heon said. “Just to see your daughter … fulfill her dreams and have fun doing it is the best thing in the world for my wife and I.”
Along with her hockey accolades, Heon Diaz De Leon’s education is a priority. She carries a GPA above 4.28 and is part of the National Honor Society. Her goal is to attend an Ivy League school – Harvard being her dream school– and pursue a journalism degree. She’d also love to play hockey in the Olympics.
Her hometown of El Paso was put on the hockey map in 2020 when online votes helped it beat out cold-weather cities in North Dakota, Kansas and Wisconsin to be named Kraft Hockeyville USA. Hearing about something like this, they didn’t expect to be a winner, Heon said. But El Paso rallied with local support and backing from the Rhinos, its youth hockey program, government officials and hockey families.
“Everybody had this buzz about them,” Heon said. “Thinking, ‘How could we, in El Paso, Texas … in the middle of the desert, win something like this?’” Heon said.
The Rhinos received a $150,000 grant and $10,000 in new equipment as part of the Kraft Hockeyville USA recognition. The money went toward new lighting, a new roof, upgraded restrooms and upgrades to the concourse of the El Paso County Events Center. The equipment funding went toward the Rhinos Learn to Play and youth program for skates and equipment.
Heon Diaz De Leon marvels when she sees so many young boys and girls playing hockey or learning to skate at the El Paso rink. Kraft Hockeyville USA helped expose people in El Paso to the sport, and that it’s open for everyone, she said.
“I personally am very thankful for Kraft Hockeyville and how much it’s changed hockey in our community that people are more aware of it now,” Heon Diaz De Leon said.
The money went a long way to help the arena, the Rhinos and developing the youth program, according to Heon. They’ve also seen new hockey fans emerge and boosts in season ticket holders, he added.
“It’s put really El Paso sort of on the road map, if you will, on the professional level as far as sporting goes,” Heon said. “We’re in the desert. And let’s just be honest, football is the number one sport in Texas. For us to be fortunate to win this, people see the state now and really, El Paso is just kind of a hockey spot.”
Winning Kraft Hockeyville USA helped open people’s eyes, even within the city, about hockey’s presence in their own backyard.
Heon maintains El Paso is a great place to raise youth and includes a lot of sports to get involved in, hockey included. Even though it’s not common to hear about a kid from Texas making productive waves for a national team, Heon Diaz De Leon stresses the importance of young girls and boys knowing that it doesn’t necessarily matter where they come from.
“The thing that matters is the hard work that you put into it,” Heon Diaz De Leon said. “The hard work can get you to anywhere and any dream that you want.”
Heon Diaz De Leon takes pride in stating she’s from El Paso and is also Mexican and plays for Mexico’s national team. She knows both locations have given her some incredible opportunities.
“One thing I’ve grown to learn is that I love when people underestimate me and where I’m from and my abilities,” Heon Diaz De Leon said. “Like, ‘Oh, you’re from Texas? You shouldn’t even be playing hockey. How do you even have ice there?’
Heon Diaz De Leon does not let those stereotypes or misperceptions deter her pride in her hometown either.
“It’s an incredible thing to say that I am from where I am from,” she concluded.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Hispanic Heritage Month takes place Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 every year as a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures, and extensive histories of the American Latino community. To learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month visit, www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov