Boys hockey team looking for more offense to move up in Section 8A ranks
According to a pre-season poll by the Section 8A coaches, the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team is rated No. 6 behind defending champion East Grand Forks, Warroad, Thief River Falls, Crookston and Kittson Central.
East Grand Forks (No. 3), Thief River Falls (No. 6) and Warroad (No. 9) are ranked among the top 10 in the state Class A pre-season poll.
Pete Stahnke feels his team has the talent to finish higher than that ranking and earn a spot in the Section 8A semifinals for the fourth time in his 10 years as the Panthers’ head coach.
The Panthers return a veteran group with 12 seniors leading the way from last year’s team that won the Mid-State Conference title with a 7-1 record and the Northwest Conference title with a 6-1-1 record while being the No. 6 seed for the section playoffs. An 11-0 loss to No. 3 Warroad in the section quarterfinals ended the Panthers’ season with a 14-9-3 record.
Offensively, the Panthers have to replace the scoring by last year’s senior duo of Ian Johnson and Frank Moren. Johnson was second on the team with 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) and ended his career with 143 points (58 goals, 85 assists) for the No. 5 spot on the school’s all-time scoring list while Moren was third in points with 28 (19 goals, nine assists).
Being counted on to put the puck in the net will be seniors Noah MacPherson, Luke Jaeger, Drew Bade, Jeff Jacobson, Raul Garcia, Cody Koebernick, Zane Berg and Lucas Pritchett; juniors Connor Kennedy, Dylan Weaver and Craig Walters; sophomores Matt DeLaHunt and Matt Bade; and freshman Chase Brand.
MacPherson led the Panthers in scoring last season with 22 goals and 20 assists for 42 points. MacPherson earned Mid-State and Northwest Conference honors.
Kennedy was third in scoring with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists), Jaeger had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) and Drew Bade had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists).
Also scoring points last season were Brand (four assists), Jacobson (three assists), Garcia (one goal, one assist), Koebernick (one goal, one assist) and Matt DeLaHunt (one assist).
Stahnke will start the season with MacPherson, Matt DeLaHunt and Brand on the first line; Drew Bade, Kennedy and Jaeger on the second line; and Matt Bade, Garcia and Weaver on the third line.
The Panthers return a veteran defensive group with seniors Cody Brumbaugh, Jamie Stewart, Bailey Mueller and Ryan DeLaHunt and sophomore Kiefer Miller leading the way.
Brumbaugh received Mid-State Conference honors at goalie after going 14-9-3 with 78 goals allowed and 718 saves.
Stewart finished fifth on the team in scoring with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) while Miller was eighth with 8 points (two goals, six assists). DeLaHunt had five assists while Mueller scored a goal last season.
Juniors Zach Hagen and Nathan Kelley and sophomore Micah Barrett will provide depth on defense while sophomore Ben Naugle will be the back-up goalie.
“I think we’ll be better offensively than last year,” said Stahnke, whose team scored 84 goals while allowing 79 a year ago. “I think we’re going to score quite a bit and we should be solid on defense.”
In order to achieve their main goal, the Panthers will have to play better against the top teams in the section. Park Rapids went 0-5 and was outscored 26-6 by East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls, Warroad and Crookston last season.
“The guys have a confident attitude this season,” said Stahnke. “If everything goes right, we could be a 3 or 4 seed. Our goal is to be the No. 3 seed and get to the semifinals. Anything can happen after that.”