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New head coach looking to surprise hockey foes

Leading the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley girls hockey team this season will be seniors (from left) Taylor Sagen, Tara Johanning, Lexi Hinkley-Smith and Paige Myhre. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Erik Myhre is looking for the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley girls hockey team to surprise the opposition this season.

Myhre, who takes over as head coach of the Panthers after serving as Gary Vaudrin's assistant for the last four seasons, will rely on 10 players who return with varsity experience to duplicate last year's feat of hosting a Section 8A playoff game.

Last season, the Panthers finished with a 9-16-1 overall record and earned the No. 4 seed for the section playoffs. Park Rapids defeated No. 5 Detroit Lakes 6-0 in a section quarterfinal game before having the season end with a 12-0 loss to No. 1 Warroad in the section semifinals.

Looking to lead the Panthers to another home playoff game this winter will be seniors Lexi Hinkley-Smith, Tara Johanning, Paige Myhre and Taylor Sagen; juniors Alexa Kennedy, Kinley Nordin and Kylee Pachel; freshman Elise Rise; and eighth graders Katie Sagen and Abigale Strandlie. That group helped the Panthers finish third in the Mid-State Conference standings with a 1-4-1-record. Northern Lakes won the conference title at 6-0 while Prairie Centre went 4-2 and Detroit Lakes finished at 0-5-1.

Hinkley-Smith, Taylor Sagen and Kennedy earned Section 8A honorable mention honors while Taylor Sagen and Kennedy received all-conference honors. Hinkley-Smith was an all-conference honorable mention player.

Kennedy returns as the Panthers' leading scorer after tallying 16 goals and 15 assists for 31 points last season. Taylor Sagen followed with 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points, Hinkley-Smith tallied 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points, Myhre had nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points, and Johanning had four goals and eight assists for 12 points.

Also contributing offensively last season were Strandlie and Rice with two assists each and Katie Sagen with one assist.

Nordin missed almost the entire season with a foot injury while Pachel returns to take over the starting goalie spot after not playing hockey last winter. Pachel went 4-9 with 60 goals allowed and 339 saves in two varsity seasons.

Looking to fill in for last year's senior crew of Julia Smith (who went 7-14-1 with 96 goals and 854 saves as the starting goalie), Sarena Aletto (two goals, 10 assists), Brooke Jerger (two goals, three assists), Allyson Vaudrin (one assist) and Kalpana Bowe (one assist) will be freshman Kaitlyn Kalita, eighth grader Savannah Anderson and seventh graders Madelyn Ackerman and Makenzie Eberhardt.

"I have a very young, talented and enthusiastic team. We return six starters and another four girls having varsity experience who have improved measurably and are ready to fill full-time status," said Myhre, who will be assisted by Brad Smith and Mike Rice. "We need to stay healthy. Our secret weapons on the ice will be the young players being able to step up their skills throughout the season."

Warroad, the defending section champion, enters the season rated No. 3 in the state Class A poll while East Grand Forks (No. 5) and Thief River Falls (No. 10) are also rated in the top-10.

Myhre is looking for the Panthers to improve all season, move up in the conference standings and peak in time for the playoffs.

"I'm looking to surprise a few teams in our conference that will be looking past us and overlooking our approach to hockey this season. Our first two home games (conference battles against Northern Lakes at Walker on Nov. 16 and at the Ted O. Johnson Ice Arena against Detroit Lakes on Nov. 28) will set the pace for us and will be very exciting for the community to watch. Those in the stands will be pleased to see the competitive nature of the girls," said Myhre. "It will be a challenging year with a short bench, but the team dynamics are there to not only compete, but to find success. We just need to stay healthy and work hard to build up our skills and stamina for sections. I do believe we can make a mark as long as we stay engaged with our goals."

SEASON SCHEDULE

Nov. 14 - at Warroad, 6 p.m. Nov. 16 - Northern Lakes at Walker, 7 p.m. Nov. 21 - at International Falls, 6 p.m. Nov. 24 - Crookston at Thief River Falls, 4 p.m. Nov. 25 - at Thief River Falls, 1:30 p.m. Nov. 28 - *Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m. Nov. 30 - Thief River Falls at Walker, 5 p.m.

Dec. 7 - *Morris, 7 p.m. Dec. 9 - *Eveleth-Gilbert, 1 p.m. Dec. 12 - at Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m. Dec. 16 - at East Grand Forks, 12 p.m. Dec. 19 - *Prairie Centre, 7 p.m. Dec. 27-28 - at Crookston tournament.

Jan. 4 - Bemidji at Walker, 7 p.m. Jan. 8 - East Grand Forks at Walker, 7 p.m. Jan. 12 - *International Falls, 6 p.m. Jan. 13 - at Eveleth-Gilbert, 2 p.m. Jan. 16 - *Crookston, 6 p.m. Jan. 18 - at Northern Lakes, 7 p.m. Jan. 23 - at Prairie Centre, 7 p.m. Jan. 27 - *Minnehaha Academy, 1 p.m.

Feb. 2 - at Bemidji, 7 p.m.

*=home game at Ted O. Johnson Ice Arena

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