Every year, Pete Stahnke expects the Park Rapids-Menahga boys hockey team to contend for the Section 8A title.
Even though the Panthers fell short of that goal, Stahnke thought his team put together another successful season.
The Panthers finished with a 15-9-3 overall record and entered the Section 8A tournament as the No. 7 seed. Park Rapids eliminated No. 10 Walker-Hackensack-Akeley before being eliminated by No. 2 Thief River Falls in the quarterfinals.
"I knew we'd have a good team, but things went better than I anticipated," said Stahnke, who has a 102-51-8 record in six seasons as the Panthers' head coach. "We lost a lot of quality seniors, but everybody worked hard and picked up the pace. We didn't rebuild. We just reloaded."
Park Rapids got off to a slow start by going 4-5 in its first nine games.
After dominating Silver Bay with a 33-17 edge in shots in a 6-2 win and W-H-A with a 44-8 edge in shots in an 8-1 victory, the Panthers were outshot 39-29 in a 5-3 loss to East Grand Forks.
The Panthers defeated Greenway 5-2 despite being outshot 39-31 before dropping three straight games. Park Rapids was outshot 35-34 in a 5-3 loss to St. Paul Como Park, outshot the St. Paul Saints 35-24 in a 4-2 loss, and outshot Detroit Lakes 33-29 in a 3-2 loss.
A 53-17 edge in shots sparked a 6-2 win over Wadena-Deer Creek before Crookston held the Panthers to only 22 shots while firing 43 shots on net in a 3-0 win.
Going undefeated at the Eveleth-Gilbert tournament started a 12-game undefeated streak.
Wins over Eveleth-Gilbert (4-1), North Metro (2-1) and Monticello (4-1) gave the Panthers a 7-5 record. Park Rapids won all three games despite being outshot by E-G 28-22, North Metro 54-29 and Monticello 34-26.
Holding a 40-10 edge in shots led to a 9-1 win over Bagley/Fosston and holding a 43-29 edge in shots sparked a 4-3 win over Northern Lakes.
Park Rapids held a 39-26 edge in shots against Kittson Central, but settled for a 5-5 tie. After being outshot 31-27 in a 4-2 win over Red Lake Falls, the Panthers settled for another tie against Northern Lakes. Park Rapids held a 42-34 edge in shots in that 3-3 tie.
After using a 37-12 edge in shots to defeat W-H-A 9-1, the Panthers tied Lake of the Woods 1-1 with a 39-38 advantage in shots.
A 6-2 win over Detroit Lakes and a 4-0 win over Red Lake Falls pushed the Panthers' record to 13-5-3. Park Rapids held a 45-19 advantage in shots in the win over DL and had a 32-16 edge in shots in the win over Red Lake Falls.
The Panthers were looking to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs, but three crucial section losses down the stretch dropped Park Rapids down in the section seeding.
Thief River Falls used a 34-17 edge in shots for a 5-0 win before the Panthers used a 30-13 edge in shots to defeat Wadena-Deer Creek 3-1. A 3-2 overtime loss to Kittson Central and a 4-3 loss to Crookston ended Park Rapids' regular season at 14-8-3. Kittson Central had a 26-25 edge in shots while Crookston held a 32-26 edge in shots.
Park Rapids opened the section playoffs with an 8-2 win over W-H-A behind a 28-10 edge in shots before Thief River Falls used a 35-23 edge in shots to spark a 5-2 win in the section quarterfinals.
The Panthers used two wins over W-DC and W-H-A, a win and tie against Northern Lakes and a win over Detroit Lakes to claim the Mid-State Conference title with a 6-1-1 record. Northern Lakes finished 5-2-1 and W-DC was 5-3. Detroit Lakes (2-5) and W-H-A (0-7) rounded out the conference standings.
Going 15-9-3 gave the Panthers their fifth winning season in Stahnke's six years as head coach.
"All the games we lost, we were competitive in," said Stahnke. "Of the nine losses, I thought we outplayed the other team in half of them. We easily could have had 20 wins this year."
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Brady Yrjo, Cody Schirmers, Ryan Kent, Brandon Mickelson, Blake Olson, Cody Brostrom, Andy Floyd and Zak Holmen; juniors Kevin McMorrow, Tucker Coborn, Ben Sitz, Jared Naeve, Dan Ricke, Steve Smith, Jeff Sharp, A.J. May, Ryan O'Mara and Jack Mercado; sophomore Kyle Kanten; freshmen Sam Coborn and Levi Erickson; and eighth grader Ian Johnson.
The Panthers received solid play on the defensive end and consistent scoring from the first and second lines in scoring 108 goals while allowing 68.
McMorrow earned all-section honors after finishing third in points with 38 (14 goals and 24 assists). Joining McMorrow on defense were Sitz (three goals, six assists for nine points), Naeve (three goals, two assists for five points), Ricke (two goals, two assists for four points) and Smith.
In the nets, Yrjo went 12-9-1 with a 91.1 save percentage. Yrjo allowed 54 goals while making 607 saves in 22 games. O'Mara was the goalie in five games, allowing 14 goals and making 114 saves with a 3-0-2 record.
Tucker Coborn led the Panthers with 29 goals and 18 assists for 48 points and Sam Coborn was second in points with 15 goals and 24 assists for 39 points. Joining those two on the first line were Kanten (seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points) and Johnson (four goals, six assists for 10 points).
Leading the second line were Kent (11 goals, four assists for 15 points), Mickelson (five goals, 10 assists for 15 points) and Olson (two goals, seven assists for nine points).
On the third line were Sharp (three goals, four assists for seven points), Erickson (three goals, four assists for seven points), Holmen (one goal) and Schirmers (one assist).
Also scoring on the varsity this season were Floyd (three goals), May (two goals), Brostrom (one goal), and eighth grader Frank Moren (one assist).
Even though the Panthers graduate eight seniors, Stahnke is looking for the Panthers to produce another winning season and move up in the section standings next season.
"I look for us to have another good season," said Stahnke. "We return all our defensemen and we have our first and third lines back. We have some good junior varsity players, who will be competing for spots. Goaltending is always a question mark. But if we get good goaltending like we had this year, we'll be right in the thick of things.'