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Summer catastrophe leads to winter celebration for Pee Wees

Earning a trip to the state Pee Wees B boys hockey tournament this winter was cause for celebration for some Wadena hockey players who suffered through a catastrophe last summer.

A tornado last June destroyed the community center in Wadena, leaving the Wadena Hockey Association without an indoor hockey rink.

Instead of playing on outdoor ice all winter, some players on the 22-member Wadena Pee Wees team looked for an alternative.

A call to Ed Moren, the president of the Park Rapids Amateur Hockey Association, solved that problem.

"After the tornado last summer, some of our kids were looking for a place to play hockey," said Wadena Pee Wees coach Chris Lund. "We contacted Ed and told him what the situation was. We needed a place to play and he said we could play here. Park Rapids opened up their arms to us and gave some kids whose families were willing to travel a place to play hockey indoors."

Adding those eight players from the Wadena Hockey Association (which includes players from Staples and New York Mills) turned out to be a blessing for Park Rapids, which had only nine sixth and seventh graders sign up.

Having 17 players gave the team more depth, which ended up leading to a runner-up showing at the region tournament and the first trip to state for a Park Rapids Pee Wees hockey team.

"For having a bunch of kids thrown together, it turned out pretty well," said Lund, who served as the Pee Wees head coach this season and was aided by assistant coaches Scott Johnson and Frank Stuemke. "It was neat to see them make the best out of a bad situation."

Park Rapids will play Rosemount Friday afternoon at 1:45 at the Blizzard Arena in Stillwater in a state quarterfinal game. Stillwater and St. Michael-Albertville are the other teams in the upper half of the bracket while the lower half pits Wayzata against Centennial and Walker against Woodbury in the other quarterfinal games.

The semifinals are set for Saturday starting at noon with the finals being played Sunday.

Getting to state wasn't easy for Park Rapids. It took a total team effort from Park Rapids' Matt Bade (wing), Ryley Cannon (wing), Cole Coborn (wing), Isaac Johnson (defenseman), Jarrett Johnson (defenseman), Gunnar Larson (defenseman) and Austin Thelen (wing); Menahga's Joseph Keranen (defenseman) and Mitch Peterson (center); Wadena's Micah Barrett (defenseman), Adam Lund (center), Dylan McManigle (defenseman), Dylan Phillips (center) and Toby Wood (goalie); New York Mills' Wyatt Ostrander (defenseman); and Staples' Tyler Helling (wing) and Evan Holm (wing) to survive through districts and regions.

After advancing with a runner-up finish at the District 15 tournament, Park Rapids had to battle through the losers' bracket with a 4-3 loss to Grand Rapids on March 4 in the first game of the Northern Region tournament at Sauk Centre.

Despite opening the tournament with a loss, Lund was confident that Park Rapids could challenge for a state berth based on the attitude the kids displayed all season.

"Attitude-wise, this is the best group of kids I've ever coached. It was a smooth season. We have a great group of kids and a great group of parents. All these kids are very coachable and they never give up," said Lund, who is in his eighth year as a youth hockey coach. "After we lost the first game, I still liked our chances to go to state. The kids said all we have to do is win the rest of our games. That's what we did."

Park Rapids defeated International Falls (7-2) and East Grand Forks (5-1) on March 5 and earned a shot at a state berth with a 2-1 win over Grand Rapids on March 5.

In the true-second game, Bemidji led 1-0 late in the third period when Phillips tied the game with :04 remaining in regulation. Bade then set up Lund for the game-winner in overtime as Park Rapids prevailed 2-1 to advance to state.

During the tournament, Phillips, Lund, Coborn, Bade and Jarrett Johnson tallied points while Wood, Barrett, Jarrett Johnson, Larson and Keranen led the defense. Park Rapids outshot all five opponents, holding a 38-23 edge against Grand Rapids, a 38-12 edge against International Falls, a 38-8 edge against East Grand Forks, a 33-16 edge against Grand Rapids in the second game and a 30-19 edge against Bemidji.

"This was a total team effort. We're a blue-collar team that works hard," said Lund. "Our first two lines are pretty productive and our third line plays good defensive hockey and grinds it out. We needed all three lines."

Park Rapids, which added Northern Lakes' Jaeger Reed as a back-up goalie, will need another team effort to have success at the state tournament. Once again, Lund likes his team's chances.

"In November, our first team goal was to make it to districts. Once we got there, we were hoping to make it to regions. Now here we are going to state and our goal is to get a trophy," said Lund. "It would be nice to bring something home. I think we have just as good a chance as anybody. We need to play as hard as we can and have some puck luck. There's tough competition there, but hopefully we can bring home a trophy."