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Panthers just miss winning season

Shania Johnson earned a spot on the Section 8A Second Team after going 8-11 and allowing 52 goals with 631 saves in 19 games.

  Gary Vaudrin had mixed emotions about the 13-13 record of the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley girls hockey team this season.

     The Panthers opened the season with a 2-7 record, won 11 of the next 12 games and ended the season with five straight losses. The 13 victories tied the school record for wins in a season set by the 2001-02 team that went 13-8-1. Park Rapids also went 5-1 in Mid-State Conference play to tie Northern Lakes for the conference title.

     However, the Panthers went 0-8 against the top four teams in Section 8A, being outscored 45-4 in losses to Warroad, Thief River Falls, East Grand Forks and Crookston. The Panthers also missed their goal of advancing past the first round of the section playoffs.

     “Overall I was happy with the season. We didn’t hit our goal of being above .500, but we played well in the conference and tied the record for wins in a season,” said Vaudrin. “We couldn’t generate any offense against the top section teams and we didn’t play well at the end of the season. I was satisfied with the season, but I want us to do better.”

     After opening the season with a 57-6 advantage in shots on goal in a 9-0 victory over Morris/Benson, the Panthers were outshot 89-9 in a 9-0 loss to Warroad.

     Four more losses followed as the Panthers were outshot 32-12 in a 4-1 loss to Northern Lakes, 29-25 in a 2-0 loss to International Falls, 50-19 in a 4-2 loss to Crookston and 58-14 in a 9-1 loss to Thief River Falls.

     Despite being outshot 31-27, the Panthers defeated Detroit Lakes 4-2 before falling to 2-7 on the season with losses to East Grand Forks (5-1) and Fargo North (2-1). EGF outshot the Panthers 59-15 while Park Rapids held a 32-26 edge in shots against Fargo North.

     A seven-game winning streak followed as the Panthers defeated Morris/Benson (8-1), Eveleth-Gilbert (4-0), Detroit Lakes (5-1), Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Wadena-Deer Creek (4-0), Lake of the Woods (4-0), Jamestown (3-1) and Mandan (6-0). The Panthers outshot Morris 32-8, Eveleth 47-11, Detroit Lakes 27-21, LPGE/WDC 27-24, LOW 60-15 and Mandan 41-15 while being outshot by Jamestown 24-17.

     Crookston ended that streak by using a 58-15 advantage in shots for a 2-0 victory.

     The Panthers rebounded by winning the next four games. Park Rapids outshot LPGE/WDC 37-26 in a 2-0 win and Northern Lakes 45-28 in a 3-1 victory. LPGE/WDC held a 28-23 edge in shots in Park Rapids’ 4-1 win while the Panthers held a 64-9 advantage in shots in a 7-0 victory over Lake of the Woods.

     Eveleth-Gilbert defeated the Panthers 4-1 despite being outshot 36-33. Park Rapids ended the regular season by being outscored 16-0 in losses to East Grand Forks (6-0), Thief River Falls (6-0) and International Falls (4-0). The Panthers were oustshot 60-11 by EGF, 49-5 by TRF and 33-16 by IF.

     Park Rapids received the No. 5 seed for the Section 8A tournament and was eliminated with a 4-0 loss to No. 4 Crookston, which held a 35-11 advantage in shots.

     Warroad ended the regular season rated No. 1 in the state Class A poll and earned runner-up honors at the state tournament. Thief River Falls was rated No. 6, East Grand Forks was rated No. 12 and Crookston was rated No. 19 in the state Class A poll.

     For the season, the Panthers scored 72 goals while allowing 68. Park Rapids tallied seven shutouts and allowed one goal in five other games. Coincidently, the Panthers were shut out seven times and scored only one goal in five other games.

     “We started off slow, but then we went on a roll and had a good winning streak,” said Vaudrin. “I thought there were about four other games that we could have won, but it just didn’t happen. We didn’t peak at the right time. We have to step up our game if we want to get to the next level.”

     Leading the Panthers this season were the 15 letterwinners: seniors Hannah Williams, Ashley Thelen and Bailey Moore; juniors Shania Johnson, Alex Pederson, Mady Vaudrin, Julia Renner, Bailee Jerger, Abby Fischer, Lauren Naeve, Kendra Dresow, Danika Aletto, Christina Smith; sophomore Jessie O’Hern; and freshman Tayah Otterness.

     Johnson was named to the Section 8A Second Team at goalie after going 8-11 with 52 goals allowed and 631 saves in 19 games. Johnson set a school record with 80 saves against Warroad and also had an assist this season.

     Williams was named to the Section 8A Third Team on defense after leading the Panthers in scoring with nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points. That moved Williams to a share of third place on the Panthers’ all-time scoring list with 87 points (38 goals, 49 assists).

     Pederson led the Panthers with 14 goals and was second with 22 points as a forward. Pederson tallied a hat trick against Detroit Lakes.

     Vaudrin finished third on the team in scoring with nine goals and seven assists for 16 points as a defenseman. Vaudrin had a hat trick against Morris/Benson.

     Thelen, Renner and Jerger also scored in double digits as forwards. Thelen capped off her senior season with 13 points (eight goals, five assists), Renner had 12 points (eight goals, four assists) and Jerger tallied 11 points (six goals, five assists).

     Moore played seven games in the nets, going 5-2 and allowing 14 goals while making 138 saves.

     Also contributing on the offensive end as forwards were Fischer (two goals, six assists), Naeve (two goals, five assists), Dresow (two goals, four assists), O’Hern (three goals, two assists), Otterness (two goals, two assists) and Smith (two goals, one assist). Aletto had one goal and four assists as a defenseman.

     Also seeing varsity time this season were freshman Lexi King; eighth graders Sara Gorder (one assist), Brooke Jerger (one assist), Ally Vaudrin (one assist), Serena Aletto (one assist), Kolpana Bowe, Josey Umthum (one goal) and Morgan Douvier (one assist); and seventh grader Lexi Hinkley-Smith (three goals, one assist).

     “We’re going to miss our seniors. They provided a lot of experience and leadership,” said Vaudrin. “We’re going to be competitive again next year. We’ll have 10 seniors and a lot of youth who played a lot of varsity. Next year looks bright. I expect us to improve our record and get a home playoff game.”

     In addition to breaking the school record for wins in a season, Vaudrin is looking for the Panthers to contend for the school’s first berth in the state tournament.

     “We have to get better in the off season. If we want to be able to compete at the next level, we need to get faster and stronger and control the puck better. We need to play more as a team and create more scoring,” said Vaudrin. “Our section is going to be tough again, but our goal is to finish in the top four and host a section game. We want to get past that first playoff game and get to state. It all depends on the will and the want of everyone. If we want to get to the next level, we need more commitment from everyone.”