Panthers expecting to contend in section
Pete Stahnke is counting on another explosive offensive attack to lead the Park Rapids-Menahga boys hockey team to another successful season.
Over the last four years, the Panthers have compiled at least 15 wins and earned a top-four seed for the Section 8A playoffs three times. Stahnke is looking for that trend to continue this season.
"These guys expect to win," said Stahnke, who enters his seventh season as the Panthers' head coach. "They have the mindset that we're going to win every game."
The Panthers return a veteran group with 16 players back from last year's team that went 15-9-3 and lost to Thief River Falls in the section quarterfinals.
Looking to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Tucker Coborn, Kevin McMorrow, Ben Sitz, Jeff Sharp, Jared Naeve, Dan Ricke, AJ May, Steve Smith and Ryan O'Mara; junior Kyle Kanten; sophomores Sam Coborn, Levi Erickson, Cory Odland and Scott Smith; and freshmen Ian Johnson and Frank Moren. Tucker Coborn and McMorrow, who is a two-time all-section defenseman, will serve as captains.
Rounding out the varsity roster are senior Mark Bravo; sophomores Lucas Maves and Zach O'Hern; and freshman Kody Walsh.
The junior varsity will feature senior Armando Padilla; sophomore Tony Ramirez; freshman John Bravo; and eighth graders Kurt Fritze, Drew Bade, Noah MacPherson, Zane Berg, Lucas Pritchett, Bailey Mueller, Ryan DeLaHunt, Jeff Jacobson and Jamie Stewart.
Park Rapids, which scored at least three goals in 19 games last season and finished with 108 goals, returns plenty of offense.
Tucker Coborn returns as the Panthers' leading scorer after tallying 29 goals and 19 assists for 48 points last season. Sam Coborn was second in points with 39, including 15 goals and 24 assists. McMorrow was third in points with 14 goals and 24 assists for 38 points. Kanten was fourth with seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points. Tucker Coborn enters the season with 82 career points (45 goals, 37 assists) while McMorrow enters the season with 75 career points (25 goals, 50 assists).
Also contributing on offense last season were Johnson (four goals, six assists), Sitz (three goals, six assists), Erickson (three goals, four assists), Sharp (three goals, four assists), Naeve (three goals, two assists), Ricke (two goals, two assists), May (two goals) and Moren (one assist).
The Panthers will start the season with Tucker Coborn, Ricke and Kanten on the first line; Sam Coborn, Erickson and Johnson on the second line; and Sharp, May and Odland on the third line. O'Hern will provide depth.
Those players will be looking to replace the scoring of last year's senior group of Ryan Kent (11 goals, four assists), Brandon Mickelson (five goals, 10 assists), Blake Olson (two goals, seven assists), Andy Floyd (three goals), Zak Holmen (one goal), Cody Brostrom (one goal) and Cody Schirmers (one assist).
Defensively, the Panthers return McMorrow, Steve Smith, Sitz and Naeve. Moren, Maves and Walsh will provide depth on defense.
Looking to take over in goal for Brady Yrjo (12-9-1 record, 2.45 goals against average) will be O'Mara (3-0-2 record, 14 goals allowed in five games, 2.63 goals against average) and Mark Bravo, a transfer student from Woodbury. Scott Smith will be the third goalie.
"This is one of the most well-rounded and complete teams we've had," said Stahnke, who will be assisted by Dave Carrier, Derek Lehrke and Jim Wallace. "We have three talented lines on offense, we have experience on defense with four senior defensemen and we have three good goalies competing for the starting job."
Last season the Panthers won the Mid-State Conference title with a 4-1-1 record and received the No. 7 seed for the section tournament. Park Rapids will join Bagley/Fosston, Kittson Central, Lake of the Woods, Red Lake Falls and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley in the Northwest Conference this season. Those teams will join Crookston, East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and Warroad in Section 8A. Bemidji moved out of Section 8A this season.
With a deep and talented roster, Stahnke is looking for the Panthers to contend for both conference titles and earn a higher seed to make a run in the section playoffs.
"We have a lot of leadership with our seniors and the guys are working hard in practice. We're going to be competitive with every team on our schedule," said Stahnke. "If we stay healthy, we're going to be in the mix of things in the section. We've got as good a shot as anybody in the section. If the guys continue to believe in themselves and continue to do what they're going, we're going to be right there."