Gary Vaudrin has already coached one Park Rapids girls hockey team in a state tournament.
After being named the head coach of the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley girls varsity team, Vaudrin's goal is to coach the Panthers in a state tournament.
In 2009, Vaudrin coached the Park Rapids 12-under team to the state B tournament. Park Rapids ended up winning the consolation title that season.
Eleven players from that team are now on the varsity. In addition to that group, Vaudrin has 13 other varsity players. Those 24 players are looking to make the Panthers a contender in a tough Section 8A field.
"Our section is tough, but I think we're going to be competitive," said Vaudrin, who played goalie at Crookston High School and the University of Minnesota-Crookston and has served as a girls hockey coach at Park Rapids for eight seasons at the 10-U, 12-U and 14-U levels. "We're going to set our goals high. Our goal is to work to get to the state tournament."
Vaudrin inherits a veteran team that went 10-15 last season. The 10 wins were the second most in school history, trailing only the 13-8-1 mark in 2001-02 and tying the 10-13-1 record in 2000-01, the 10-12 record in 2002-03 and the 10-11-1 record in 2004-05.
Returning to lead the Panthers this season are the 20 players who competed on varsity last season.
That list features seniors Allie Bade, Jessica Gapinski and Taylor Pachel; juniors Hannah Williams, Ashley Thelen, Madisen Douvier and Bailey Moore; sophomores Shania Johnson, Abby Fischer, Mady Vaudrin, Danika Aletto, Christina Smith, Lauren Naeve, Alex Pederson, Julia Renner and Kendra Dresow; freshmen Hannah Gorder, Makenna Persing and Jessie O'Hern; and eighth grader Tayah Otterness. Bade and Gapinski will serve as captains while Pachel and Williams will serve as assistant captains. Bade, Gapinski and Williams received Mid-State Conference honors last season while Vaudrin was an all-conference honorable mention selection.
Offensively, the Panthers will have Gapinski, Pederson, Naeve and Persing at center; Renner, Fischer, Smith and Gorder at left wing; and Thelen, Dresow, Pachel and Douvier at right wing. Bade, Williams, Vaudrin, Aletto and O'Hern return to lead the defense. Moore and Johnson return at goalie.
Gapinski and Aletto are from Walker; Dresow is from Menahga; and Douvier is from Nevis.
Gapinski was second on the team in scoring last season with 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points in 25 games. Gapinski currently ranks seventh in career scoring with 64 points.
Williams followed with 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points in 22 games while Bade contributed three goals and seven assists for 10 points in 25 games. Vaudrin also scored 10 points with five goals and five assists in 25 games.
Also contributing on offense last season were Thelen (4 goals, 2 assists in 25 games), Fischer (3 goals, 3 assists in 22 games), Pederson (5 goals in 25 games), Otterness (2 goals in 10 games), Pachel (2 assists in 16 games), O'Hern (2 assists in nine games), Aletto (1 goal, 1 assist in 25 games), Renner (1 goal, 1 assist in 25 games), Smith (1 goal in 18 games), Gorder (1 assist in six games), Naeve (1 assist in 13 games), Persing (1 assist in 16 games) and Dresow (1 assist in 24 games). Douvier played in six games last season.
Moore and Johnson alternated in the nets. Moore had a 3-8 record with 285 saves and 51 goals allowed in 12 games while Johnson went 7-7 with 328 saves and 46 goals allowed in 16 games.
Rounding out the varsity roster are four eighth graders: Marienna Dearstyne from Park Rapids and Josey Umthun, Morgan Douvier and Lexi King from Nevis. Dearstyne will play center, Umthun and King will provide depth on defense and Douvier will provide depth at forward.
The Panthers have some key positions to fill with the loss of Heather Brostrom, McKenna Brand and Bailee Jerger. Brostrom, who graduated, solidified the defense and was third in scoring with 16 points. Brand set a single-season scoring record with 37 goals and 52 points. Brand is playing at the North American Hockey Academy in Vermont this season. Jerger, who was seventh in points with five goals and three assists, took the year off to be a foreign exchange student in Australia.
"We lose our top scorer and some leadership, but these girls are going to work hard and work as a team. If you work hard, good things will happen," said Vaudrin, who will be assisted by Andy Williams, Dion Pederson and Judd Fischer. "We're going to be a more defensive-minded team this season. Defense is going to be our strength. We need to find some scorers. These girls are athletes and they're competitors and they have heart. I think we can play with these teams."
Section 8A is again loaded with Warroad ranked No. 1 in the pre-season Class A poll after winning the state title last season and Crookston rated No. 5. Warroad edged Crookston 3-2 in last year's section title game. Park Rapids earned the No. 5 seed and was defeated by No. 4 East Grand Forks 4-1 in a first-round game.
Vaudrin is looking for the Panthers to improve on last year's record and make it past the first round of the playoffs this season.
"Our goal is to be a championship team. I'd like to have a winning record and get past the first game in the section, but to me a successful season is seeing the girls grow, improve, learn the game and have fun," said Vaudrin, whose team opened the season with a 12-0 win over Benson/Morris and a 4-0 loss to Warroad. "We have good numbers and good quality players, so the future looks bright. These girls have had success in the past and the expectation to do well is there. I think we're going to surprise some people this year."