Panthers return plenty of talent to contend in section
Even with a tougher schedule, Pete Stahnke is counting on the Park Rapids-Menahga-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team to compile a winning record and challenge for a top-four seed for the Section 8A playoffs.
The main reason for Stahnke's optimism is the return of a veteran team that went 12-13-1 last season.
Leading the Panthers this season are seniors Sam Coborn, Levi Erickson, Cory Odland, Scott Smith, Lucas Maves, Benson Ringle and Cole Garoutte; juniors Ian Johnson and Frank Moren; and sophomores Noah MacPherson, Bailey Mueller, Jamie Stewart, Drew Bade, Cody Brumbaugh, Luke Jaeger and Chris Walters.
Beginning the season on the first line will be Coborn at center and Erickson and Ringle on the wings. MacPherson will be the center on the second line with Johnson and Odland on the wings. The third line will feature Garoutte at center with Bade and Jaeger on the wings.
Smith and Brumbaugh will compete for the starting goalie spot while Maves, Stewart, Mueller, Moren and Walters will lead the defense.
Coborn begins the season third on the Panthers' all-time scoring list with 80 goals and 93 assists for 173 points. Coborn trails only Zach Lehrke (212 points) and Tyler Lehrke (192 points) on the career scoring chart. Coborn scored 64 points last season with 35 goals and 29 assists. The 35 goals were second in school history in a single season behind Zach Lehrke's 54 and the 29 assists tied for fifth place all-time. Coborn was an all-state honorable mention player and repeated as a Section 8A, Northwest Conference and Mid-State Conference player.
Johnson finished second on the team in scoring with 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points. Johnson was a Mid-State honorable mention player last season.
Erickson earned Mid-State Conference honors after finishing third in scoring with14 goals and 15 assists for 29 points.
Ringle earned Mid-State honorable mention honors after scoring three goals and tallying five assists.
MacPherson was fifth in scoring with six goals and four assists for 10 points.
Moren (four goals, five assists) and Maves (two goals, seven assists) each scored 9 points last season.
Also contributing on offense last season were Mueller (one goal, three assists), Odland (two goals, one assist), Stewart (one goal, one assist) and Jaeger (one assist).
Smith went 7-9-1 in 20 games with 68 goals allowed and 468 saves while Brumbaugh went 5-4 with 33 goals allowed and 261 saves in 10 games.
Starting the season on the junior varsity and providing depth on varsity will be senior goalie Evan Wilson; junior goalie Jonathon Bravo; sophomores Arik Hillukka (center), Raul Garcia (forward), Jeff Jacobson (forward), Zane Berg (forward), Ryan DeLaHunt (defenseman), Lucas Pritchett (forward), Adam Young (forward) and Alex Nelson (forward); and freshman Zach Hagen (defenseman).
That group will look to fill in for last year's senior duo of Kyle Kanten (12 goals, 13 assists) and Zach Strandlie (four goals, four assists).
"We've toughened up our schedule, but I think we'll be very competitive this season," said Stahnke, whose team will play Warroad and enter the Fergus Falls tournament this season. "Our forwards will be strong offensively. We have good balance and we'll be good through the neutral zone, but we need to work on our defense. Everyone has to know their role. We're young, but if we can clean up our defensive end, we're going to be a tough team to beat."
Last year the Panthers went 5-8 against section opponents, finished with a 5-4 record against Northwest Conference foes and went 4-3-1 in Mid-State Conference games. Park Rapids received the No. 7 seed for the section tournament and opened the playoffs with a 10-1 loss to No. 2 Thief River Falls, which went on to win the section title and place third at the state Class A tournament.
Stahnke is counting on the Panthers to post more wins, contend for both conference titles and make a run at reaching the Section 8A title game for the first time.
"We expect to win, but I don't look at wins and losses to judge success. I look at how we progress and improve as a team," said Stahnke. "One of our goals is to take the conference championships and be one of the top four teams in the section. Our section is tough, but I think we can definitely compete with the top teams. These kids want to win and if we play the way I think we're capable of playing, we'll do just fine. I'm excited about the season."