Panthers set foundation for new era
When the Park Rapids boys hockey team graduated 10 players off its 20-player varsity roster last season, head coach Pete Stahnke felt it was the perfect time to merge with the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley program.
That merger gave the Panthers numbers with 20 varsity players and 19 junior varsity players. Although combining the two teams didn't result in immediate success, Stahnke believes the merger will make the program stronger down the road.
"It was the right time for it," said Stahnke. "Our numbers were OK for this year and next year, but our numbers in the lower grades are low. This gives us the opportunity to get our numbers up and develop the Walker kids into our system. This was a move for the future and I think it's going to work out really well."
Stahnke knew this would be a tough season since the Panthers returned only four players who saw extensive minutes from last year's team that went 16-8-2. That lack of experience resulted in some close losses that led to a 12-13-1 overall record.
The Panthers opened the season by being outshot 39-11 in an 11-2 loss to East Grand Forks.
After holding a 38-23 edge in shots in a 6-4 win over Greenway, the Panthers opened the Mid-State Conference schedule with a 6-5 overtime loss to Detroit Lakes, which held a 39-29 edge in shots.
Park Rapids matched Wadena-Deer Creek's 30 shots on goal in a 7-1 victory before being outshot 39-26 in a 5-1 loss to Lake of the Woods and 48-22 in a 7-2 loss to Crookston.
At the Eveleth tournament, the Panthers were outshot 41-25 in a 3-2 loss to Henry Sibley before controlling play in a 2-1 win over Greenway and a 10-2 victory over Kittson Central. The Panthers outshot Greenway 51-15 and Kittson Central 44-27 in those two tournament wins.
The Panthers held a 51-21 edge in shots against Northern Lakes, but had to settle for a 2-2 tie. A 42-27 edge in shots led to an 8-2 win over Bagley/Fosston and a 63-24 edge in shots sparked a 5-1 win over Kittson Central as Park Rapids held a 6-5-1 record.
Thief River Falls posted a 10-1 win despite being outshot 31-24 before the Panthers used a 58-27 edge in shots to spark a 7-1 win over W-DC.
Red Lake Falls used a 48-20 advantage in shots for a 5-1 victory before the Panthers used a 45-40 edge in shots to defeat Northern Lakes 6-3.
Prairie Centre used a 41-27 edge in shots for a 5-3 win before being outshot 30-21 in a 5-3 loss to the Panthers.
A 44-24 edge in shots powered Red Lake Falls to a 4-1 win before the Panthers used a 53-18 advantage in shots to spark a 6-1 win over Greenway.
Park Rapids' best game of the season came in a 3-2 loss to Crookston, which held a 34-21 edge in shots.
After defeating Bagley/Fosston 7-4 (with a 50-25 edge in shots) and Kittson Central 9-2 (with a 38-17 edge in shots), the Panthers closed out the regular season with a 4-2 loss to Detroit Lakes and a 4-0 loss to Lake of the Woods. Park Rapids was outshot 44-22 against the Lakers while LOW held a 45-21 edge in shots in the regular-season finale.
For the Section 8A tournament, the Panthers received the No. 7 seed and faced No. 2 Thief River Falls in a quarterfinal game. Park Rapids was outshot 43-9 as Thief River Falls advanced with a 10-1 victory. Thief River Falls went on to win the section title and place third at the state Class A tournament.
For the season, the Panthers scored 103 goals while allowing 104. Park Rapids was outscored 55-10 in going 0-8 against the top teams in the section. Three of those teams (Thief River Falls at 21-9-1, Lake of the Woods at 17-7-3 and Red Lake Falls at 13-11-1) finished with winning records while the other two (Crookston at 11-12-3 and East Grand Forks at 10-15-1) posted at least 10 wins.
Of Park Rapids' other opponents, Detroit Lakes (16-10-1) and Northern Lakes (14-9-2) also had winning records while Greenway (10-15) hit double digits in wins. The other five teams (Prairie Centre at 8-17-1, Henry Sibley at 7-19-1, Kittson Central at 6-21, W-DC at 4-21 and Bagley/Fosston at 3-20-1) combined for only 28 wins.
"It was a learning year for us," said Stahnke, whose team didn't have a winning record for the first time since the 2004-05 season. "We had a young team and that showed. We had an up-and-down season. At times we played well and at times we showed our youth. There were some other games that we could have won, but overall I was happy with the season."
Leading the Panthers offensively were the top two lines of senior Kyle Kanten; juniors Sam Coborn, Levi Erickson and Cory Odland; sophomore Ian Johnson; and freshman Noah MacPherson.
Coborn led the Panthers with 35 goals and 29 assists for 64 points to move into the No. 3 spot in school history with 89 goals and 93 assists for 173 points. Only Zach Lehrke (212 points) and Tyler Lehrke (192 points) have more points. Coborn played in all 25 games and tallied five hat tricks. Coborn had six-point games against W-DC (three goals, three assists) and Kittson Central (two goals, four assists); five-point games against Greenway (two goals, three assists), Kittson Central (three goals, two assists), Bagley (four goals, one assist) and W-DC (three goals, two assists); and a four-point game against Northern Lakes (two goals, two assists) while tallying a hat trick and recording three assists in the two games against Prairie Centre.
Johnson was second on the team in scoring with 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points in 25 games. Johnson tallied a hat trick with two assists against Kittson Central and had three goals and an assist against Bagley. Johnson also had a pair of five-point games against W-DC (two goals, three assists in the first game and one goal, four assists in the second game).
Erickson also played in 25 games and finished third on the team in points with 29, including 14 goals and 15 assists. Erickson tallied a hat trick and had an assist against Kittson Central.
Kanten used a hat trick against Greenway to finish fourth on the team with 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in 25 games. Kanten received the Matt Spangler Award.
MacPherson also reached double digits in points with six goals and four assists for 10 points in 25 games.
Odland saw action in 25 games and finished the season with two goals and an assist for 3 points.
Defensively, the Panthers were led by juniors Lucas Maves and Benson Ringle; sophomore Frank Moren; and freshmen Bailey Mueller and Jamie Stewart. Junior goalie Scott Smith and freshman goalie Cody Brumbaugh shared time in the nets.
Moren chipped in four goals and five assists in 24 games, Maves had two goals and seven assists in 25 games, Ringle tallied three goals and five assists in 25 games, Mueller had one goal and three assists in 25 games, and Stewart had one goal and one assist in 24 games.
Smith went 7-9-1 in 20 games, allowing 68 goals while making 468 saves. Brumbaugh played in 10 games, going 5-4 with 33 goals allowed and 261 saves.
Also contributing on the varsity this season were seniors Micah Bank (three goals allowed, 21 saves in two games at goalie) and Jarid Paulson (who received the team's Hobey Baker award); junior Zach O'Hern (one assist) and Cole Garoutte; sophomore Kody Walsh (two goals, three assists); freshmen Luke Jaeger (one assist), Drew Bade, Kurt Fritze and Chris Walters; and eighth grader Connor Kennedy.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have to fill Kanten's spot. But Stahnke is counting on the Panthers to be even more competitive with the top section teams and produce more wins.
"It's going to be nice from here on out. We've got good numbers and we bring back almost the entire team," said Stahnke. "We have good skill players back, but we need to come in stronger and faster. We're definitely going to be improved and win more games next year. I'm looking forward to it."