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Panthers skate to successful season

Ian Johnson received the team's Hobey Baker Award and earned Mid-State Conference and Northwest Conference honors after tallying 12 goals and 22 assists.

  Entering the season, Pete Stahnke thought the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team had the talent to post a winning record, capture the Mid-State Conference and Northwest Conference titles, and contend for a top-four seed for the Section 8A tournament.

     The Panthers accomplished three of those goals by going 14-9-3 and winning both conference titles. However, going 0-5 against East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls, Warroad and Crookston and splitting games with Kittson Central gave the Panthers the No. 6 seed for the section tournament, which resulted in a loss in the quarterfinals.

     Park Rapids opened the season with a 5-0 loss to East Grand Forks, which held a 54-5 advantage in shots on goal. The Panthers outshot Detroit Lakes 35-33, but suffered a 5-1 setback in the Mid-State Conference opener.

     After using a 51-22 edge in shots to defeat Wadena-Deer Creek 8-1 in a Mid-State game, the Panthers were outshot 32-20 in a 6-3 loss to Crookston. Park Rapids used a 43-25 advantage in shots to defeat Northern Lakes 5-1 in another Mid-State game.

     At the Fergus Falls holiday tournament, the Panthers opened with a 6-1 loss to West Fargo before tying Fergus Falls 3-3 and Monticello 1-1. West Fargo held a 44-17 advantage in shots and Fergus Falls held a 41-27 edge in shots while the Panthers outshot Monticello 26-25.

     The pair of ties sparked a successful string as the Panthers went 10-2-1 in their next 13 games.

     A 51-16 advantage in shots sparked a 6-1 win over Bagley/Fosston and a 28-20 edge in shots led to a 3-2 win over Kittson Central in a pair of Northwest Conference games.

     Thief River Falls skated to a 7-2 win with a 48-29 advantage in shots before the Panthers went on a five-game winning streak with victories over W-DC (7-1), Lake of the Woods (2-1), Northern Lakes (6-1), Prairie Centre (4-1) and Red Lake Falls (5-0). Park Rapids was outshot 30-28 against W-DC, but held a 30-21 edge against LOW in a Northwest Conference game. The Panthers also outshot Northern Lakes 38-20 and Prairie Centre 41-22 in a pair of Mid-State wins and held a 45-14 advantage in a Northwest Conference win over Red Lake Falls.

     Crookston ended that winning streak with a 4-1 victory as the Pirates outshot Park Rapids 50-16.

     Park Rapids struggled offensively in the next three games. The Panthers held a 36-26 edge in shots in a 2-2 tie with Lake of the Woods and was outshot 29-27 in a 2-0 win over Prairie Centre. The Panthers held a 50-21 edge in shots against Red Lake Falls in a 1-0 victory.

     A 41-24 advantage in shots sparked a 6-1 win over Greenway before Warroad used a 44-9 advantage in shots for a 4-0 win.

     Bagley/Fosston held a 5-3 lead before the Panthers rallied for a 6-5 win in overtime. Park Rapids held a 53-21 advantage in shots in that game. Kittson Central relied on a 38-27 advantage in shots for an 8-2 victory.

     The Panthers gained some momentum for the playoffs with a 7-0 win over Detroit Lakes, which held a 33-32 edge in shots.

     Warroad ended the Panthers’ season with an 11-0 win in a section quarterfinal game. The No. 3-seeded Warriors held a 44-7 advantage in shots to advance.

     East Grand Forks won the section title and ended the season rated No. 5 in the Class A poll with a 23-5-3 record. Thief River Falls was rated No. 6 with a 17-10 record while Warroad was rated No. 10 with a 19-7-2 record.

     For the season, the Panthers scored 84 goals while allowing 79. Park Rapids tallied four shutouts and allowed only one goal in eight other games. The Panthers were shut out three times and scored only one goal in four other games.

     The Panthers went 7-1 in Mid-State Conference games while Detroit Lakes (5-2-1), W-DC (3-5), Northern Lakes (3-5) and Prairie Centre (1-6-1) followed.

     In Northwest Conference play, the Panthers went 6-1-1 to claim the title. Kittson Central was second at 6-2 while LOW (5-2-1), Bagley/Fosston (2-6) and Red Lake Falls (0-8) followed.

     “I had higher expectations, but I thought we did well,” said Stahnke. “We played well at the Christmas tournament against Fergus Falls and Monticello. We went on a roll after that. The kids matured and understood that winning is fun. We finished above .500 and won both the Mid-State Conference and Northwest Conference titles. I was disappointed with the playoff loss to Warroad. I thought we had an opportunity to win that game. Overall I thought it was a good year. I was happy with the season.”

     Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Ian Johnson and Frank Moren; juniors Noah MacPherson, Cody Brumbaugh, Jamie Stewart, Luke Jaeger, Drew Bade, Bailey Mueller, Ryan DeLaHunt, Jeff Jacobson, Chris Walters, Kade Navratil, Raul Garcia and Cody Koebernick; sophomore Connor Kennedy; freshmen Kiefer Miller and Matt DeLaHunt; and eighth grader Chase Brand.

     Johnson earned the team’s Hobey Baker Award and received Mid-State and Northwest honors after leading the team with 22 assists, finishing third with 12 goals and finishing second with 34 points. Johnson moved up to the No. 5 spot in career scoring with 143 points, including 58 goals and 85 assists. Johnson had four goals in the first win against Bagley/Fosston.

     MacPherson led the Panthers in scoring with 22 goals and 20 assists for 42 points. MacPherson, who received the team’s Coach’s Award, scored five games in the overtime win over Bagley/Fosston and had three goals and three assists in the first win against W-DC. MacPherson earned Mid-State and Northwest honors.

     Moren, who received the team’s Matt Spangler Award, was third in scoring with 19 goals and nine assists for 28 points. Moren was also named to the Mid-State and Northwest teams.

     Brumbaugh started all 26 games in the nets, going 14-9-3 and allowing 78 goals while making 718 saves. Brumbaugh earned Mid-State Conference honors.

     Kennedy was third in scoring with eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points.

     Jaeger had nine goals and seven assists for 16 points while Bade scored four goals and had 10 assists for 14 points.

     Stewart tallied four goals and 15 assists for 19 points, Miller had two goals and six assists, Ryan DeLaHunt had five assists and Mueller had a goal as the Panthers’ top defensemen.

     Also scoring points this season were Brand (four assists), Jacobson (three assists), Walters (two assists), Navratil (one goal, one assist), Garcia (one goal, one assist), Koebernick (one goal, one assist), and Matt DeLaHunt (one assist). Walters received the team’s Most Improved Player award.

     “We only lose two seniors, so I expect good things next year,” said Stahnke. “We’ll have to replace Ian and Frank on our top lines, but we have all our defense back. We expect to be above .500 again and win both conferences and I want us to be a No. 3 seed. East Grand Forks is going to be the team to beat again, but we should be right there with Thief River Falls and Warroad. We have a talented group coming back and I think we have an opportunity to go to the section finals. The players just have to believe in themselves.”