Park Rapids boys hockey team will count on quickness, depth
Pete Stahnke is counting on depth and team quickness to lead the Park Rapids-Menahga boys hockey team to another successful season.
Last year the Panthers posted a 16-8-2 record and received the No. 4 seed for the Section 8A playoffs before being shut out by East Grand Forks 7-0 in the quarterfinals. The 16 wins were the third most in school history, trailing only the 19-5 record in 1999-2000 and the 18-6 record in 2000-2001.
The Panthers have some key spots to fill with the graduation of 12 players, including one of the school's all-time leading scorers and two goalies. Levi Goeden moved into a tie for the No. 3 spot in career scoring with 122 points while Tyler Condiff (15 career wins) and Jeremiah Johnson (20 career wins) graduated with a total of 35 wins in the nets. Alex Ehler (61 career points), Nate Wittenburg (57 career points), Ryan Paulou-ski (52 career points), Brian Hall (30 career points), Justin MacPherson (17 career points) and Tom Kading (14 career points) also leave key spots to fill.
On the positive side, the Panthers return plenty of experience with 19 players back from last year's varsity squad.
Leading the Panthers this season will be seniors Adam Eskola, Chris Bruhn, Joe Penning, Justin Dennis, Patrick Restemayer, Alex Torkelson, Mitchell Lane, Ryan Naeve, Tom Holmen and Grant Hadrava; and juniors Derek Ricke, Colter Hensel, Curtis Tolle, Zach Knapp, Bill Winkler, Zach Lehrke, Jake Sauer, Nate Schmidgall and Mark Smith.
Rounding out this year's varsity squad are senior Dylan Haapala from Menahga; sophomores Landon Kohlrusch (a transfer student from Shakopee), Jordan Anderson, Blake Olson, Cody Schirmers, Brent Frenette, Zach Holmen, Ryan Kent, Cody Brostrom and Brady Yjro from Menahga; and freshmen Kevin McMorrow and Dan Ricke.
Bruhn, Penning, Tom Holmen, Hadrava, Haapala, Hensel, Knapp, Winkler, Sauer, Kohlrusch, Anderson, Olson, Schirmers, Frenette, Zach Holmen and Brostrom will be the wings with Torkelson, Lane, Naeve, Lehrke and Kent playing center. Eskola, Dennis, Restemayer, Derek Ricke, Tolle, Schmidgall, Olson and McMorrow will be the defensemen with Smith, Yrjo and Dan Ricke playing goalie.
Lehrke returns after leading the team in scoring with 25 goals and 30 assists for 55 points last season. The 25 goals in a season tied for the No. 5 spot in school history, the 30 assists rank No. 3 all-time and the 55 points share the No. 3 spot in school history.
Winkler is the only other player returning who scored in double digits last season. Winkler had eight goals and 10 assists last season.
Joining Lehrke and Winkler on the first line with be Knapp, who had three goals and four assists last season.
The second line will feature Torkelson (two goals, five assists last season), Penning (one goal, one assist) and Kohlrusch.
Starting the season on the third line will be Hensel (four goals, three assists), Bruhn (one goal, three assists) and Lane.
Hadrava, Naeve and Tom Holmen will comprise the fourth line.
Defensively, Dennis (three assists last season) and Tolle (two assists) return with the most experience. Dennis and Restemayer (one assist), Tolle and McMorrow, and Ricke (one goal, three assists) and Eskola (three goals, four assists) will be teamed up defensively.
Smith returns as the only experienced goalie after going 3-0 with 37 saves and three goals allowed in three games last season.
"We graduated some key guys, but I think we have the guys who can fill in and take over the scoring," said Stahnke. "We have a lot of depth and this is one of the quickest teams we've had. We're much further ahead than we've been before. I think our top three lines can play with anybody."
With Thief River Falls and Warroad graduating key players, Stahnke sees a competitive battle for the section title this season. Warroad is rated No. 6 in the state Class A pre-season poll while Thief River Falls is listed at No. 12.
"Last year the section was wide open and I think this year it is even more wide open. There are no powerhouses. It's anybody's game," said Stahnke. "You have to come ready to play every night. We could go anywhere from being a .500 team to being a really good team. It all depends on who comes ready to play."