Panthers counting on pairing to keep winning tradition going
Pete Stahnke is hoping the pairing of the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey teams will continue the Panthers' streak of winning seasons.
Last year, the Panthers received the No. 6 seed for the Section 8A playoffs and lost to No. 3 East Grand Forks 5-1 in the quarterfinals to end a 16-8-2 season. Winning 16 games gave the Panthers a winning record for the fifth year in a row.
W-H-A received the No. 10 seed for the section playoffs and was eliminated by No. 7 Crookston 16-1 in the first round to end a 0-24 season. W-H-A was outscored 309-28 and was the only winless hockey team in the state. The Wolves went 1-19 three years ago and 2-19 two years ago with all three victories against Bagley/Fosston.
Adding the W-H-A players to the returning Park Rapids crew gives the Panthers some needed depth this season.
"So far it's been going pretty good. It's going better than I anticipated," said Stahnke, who will be assisted by Dave Carrier, Derek Lehrke and Jim Wallace. "In the long run, combining with Walker will make us a stronger program."
The Panthers have to replace 10 seniors, including center Tucker Coborn and defenseman Kevin McMorrow. Both earned Section 8A and Northwest Conference honors and graduated among the all-time leading scorers in Park Rapids history. Coborn finished second on the team with 64 points, including a team-high 32 goals while McMorrow was third in scoring with 35 points, including 12 goals. Coborn finished third in school history with 146 career points while McMorrow ranks seventh with 110 career points.
Other key spots to fill are Ryan O'Mara (9-5-1 record) and Mark Bravo (5-2 record) at goalie: Dan Ricke (14 goals, 14 assists), Jeff Sharp (one goal, one assist) and AJ May (two assists) at forward; and Jared Naeve (two goals, 14 assists), Ben Sitz (one goal, six assists) and Steve Smith (one assist) on defense.
Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are the returning varsity players: senior Kyle Kanten (defenseman); juniors Sam Coborn (center), Levi Erickson (forward), Scott Smith (goalie), Cory Odland (forward), Zach O'Hern (forward) and Lucas Maves (defenseman); sophomores Ian Johnson (forward), Frank Moren (defenseman) and Kody Walsh (center); and freshmen Noah MacPherson (center), Bailey Mueller (defenseman), Drew Bade (forward), Jamie Stewart (defenseman), Kurt Fritze (forward) and Cody Brumbaugh (goalie).
Joining that group will be seniors Jarid Paulson (forward) and Zach Strandlie (forward) and juniors Cole Garoutte (defenseman) and Benson Ringle (defenseman) from Walker.
Sam Coborn led the Panthers with 70 points, including 30 goals and 40 assists, to earn all-section and all-conference honors. Coborn enters the season eighth in career scoring with 109 points.
Kanten finished fourth on the team in scoring with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) while Erickson was next with 20 points (11 goals, nine assists).
Smith had a 2-1-1 record in six games with 22 goals allowed and 109 saves.
Also helping out on the offensive end last season were Moren (two goals, three assists), MacPherson (two assists), Maves (two assists), Mueller (one assist), Odland (one goal), Walsh (one assist) and O'Hern (one assist).
Comprising the junior varsity roster are senior Zach Baird (forward) and Micah Bank (goalie); sophomores Robert Whiteside (forward) and Jonathon Bravo (goalie); freshmen Luke Jaeger (forward), Raul Garcia (forward), Jeff Jacobson (forward), Zane Berg (forward), Kade Navratil (forward), Ryan DeLaHunt (defenseman), Lucas Pritchett (forward), Chris Walters (defenseman), Adam Young (forward) and Alex Nelson (forward); and eighth graders Zach Hagen (defenseman), Nathan Kelley (defenseman), CJ Walters (forward), Dillon Weaver (forward) and Connor Kennedy (center).
Stahnke will start the season with Coborn, Kanten and Johnson on the first line; MacPherson, Erickson and Odland on the second line; and Walsh, Strandlie and Paulson on the third line.
Defensively, Smith will start in goal with Brumbaugh as the back-up. Moren, Maves, Ringle, Mueller, Garoutte and Stewart will play defense.
"We're awfully young, but I expect us to be competitive," said Stahnke. "The kids are working hard in practice. The key to success this year is for everybody to know their role. If we do that, we're going to be all right."
Defending champion Warroad (26-5) and runner-up Thief River Falls (19-8-1) are expected to be the teams to beat in the section. East Grand Forks is also a top contender. Warroad, which finished third at the state Class A tournament, begins the season ranked No. 4 in the first state Class A poll.
"Warroad, Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks are the teams to beat, but I see us battling for the next spot," said Stahnke. "Every year we expect to have a winning season. We're not going to win every game, but we want to put ourselves in position to have a chance to win every game."