Panthers expect to continue winning tradition in boys hockey
Pete Stahnke doesn't expect the Park Rapids-Menahga boys hockey team to duplicate last year's success. However, the Panthers' head coach still has the usual high expectations of having his team develop into a serious contender in time for the Sec...
Pete Stahnke doesn't expect the Park Rapids-Menahga boys hockey team to duplicate last year's success.
However, the Panthers' head coach still has the usual high expectations of having his team develop into a serious contender in time for the Section 8A playoffs.
The Panthers graduated eight players off last year's team that started the season 20-0 and set a school record by going 25-3. Park Rapids advanced to the Section 8A semifinals before being denied the school's first trip to a section title game with an 8-3 loss to East Grand Forks.
Leading that team were Zach Lehrke (who had 99 points and became the school's all-time leader in career goals with 113 and career points with 212) and Mark Smith (who became the school's all-time leader in wins as a goalie with a 43-9-3 record). The Panthers also have to replace three key defensemen in Derek Ricke, Curtis Tolle and John Paulouski and scoring threats in Zach Knapp (19 goals, 20 assists), Colter Hensel (13 goals, 18 assists) and Bill Winkler (10 goals, 10 assists).
Being counted on to lead the Panthers to another winning season are the 18 returning varsity and junior varsity players: seniors Cody Brostrom, Andy Floyd, Zak Holmen, Ryan Kent, Kevin McMorrow, Brandon Mickelson, Cody Schirmers and Brady Yrjo; juniors Tucker Coborn, A.J. May, Jack Mercado, Jared Naeve, Ryan O'Mara, Dan Ricke, Jeff Sharp, Ben Sitz and Steve Smith; and sophomore Kyle Kanten. Schirmers (who will miss most of the season with a knee injury), Coborn and McMorrow will serve as captains while Mickelson will be an assistant captain.
"These guys are used to winning and they like it," said Stahnke, who will be assisted by Jim Wallace, Dave Carrier and Derek Lehrke. "These guys have high expectations. They expect to win a lot of games this year."
Rounding out this year's varsity and junior varsity rosters are sophomore Alex Renner; freshmen Sam Coborn, Levi Erickson, Erik Lageson, Lucas Maves, Cory Odland, Zach O'Hern and Scott Smith; and eighth graders Ian Johnson, Frank Moren, Cody Walsh and Robert Whiteside. Since Park Rapids isn't fielding a Bantams team this season, those younger players will play on the junior varsity.
Offensively, the Panthers will start the season with the Coborns and May on one line; Kent, Mickelson and Brostrom on a line; and Erickson, Sharp and Holmen on a line. The other lines will feature O'Hern, Johnson and Kanten; and Walsh, Mercado and Odland. Schirmers will fill a spot when he returns while Lageson and Whiteside will provide depth.
Defensively, the Panthers will feature McMorrow, Steve Smith, Naeve, Sitz, Ricke, Floyd, Moren, Maves and Renner. McMorrow received all-section honors last season.
Yrjo and O'Mara will compete for the starting goalie position with Scott Smith being the back-up.
The Panthers will look to spread the scoring around. Tucker Coborn was third in scoring last season with 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) and McMorrow was fifth with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists). Those two should once again be among the Panthers' leading point producers.
Also being counted on to produce on the offensive end again this year are Mickelson (five goals, three assists last season), Schirmers (three goals, four assists), Kent (three goals), Floyd (two goals, five assists), Brostrom (two goals, one assist), Naeve (two goals, one assist), Sitz (two goals), Kanten (two goals) and Steve Smith (one assist).
Yrjo played three games in the nets, going 2-0 with one goal allowed and 16 saves. O'Mara will also see some time in the goal this winter.
"Offensively you're going to see a more even effort with our defensemen being more offensive-minded," said Stahnke. "We should be pretty solid. We're going to be very solid on defense and we're going to be fast. To be successful, we're going to need everybody to pick it up offensively."
Looking ahead to the Section 8A playoffs, defending champion Warroad and runner-up East Grand Forks will be among the teams to beat. Thief River Falls and Bemidji will also have strong teams.
Stahnke is looking for the Panthers to improve throughout the season and make a run at returning to the section semifinals.
"We're going to be an exciting team to watch," said Stahnke, whose team opens the season at Silver Bay today (Saturday). "The guys are working hard. We have a lot of inexperienced players, but I see us making a lot of progress by the end of the year. I see us being right in the middle of things. I look for another competitive section and I see us battling for one of the top spots by the end of the year."