Bill Moore brings years of high school and collegiate coaching experience as he takes over as the head coach of the Park Rapids-Menahga-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team.

Moore played high school hockey at Woodbury before playing four years as a forward at St. Mary’s University in Winona. After graduating, Moore served as an assistant varsity and head JV coach at St. Mary’s before becoming the head coach at Tartan High School. After six years at Tartan, Moore returned to St. Mary’s as an assistant coach before taking over as the head coach at South St. Paul and Woodbury for 15 years. Moore returned to St. Mary’s as the head coach in 2007 before retiring in 2019. Moore then moved to Park Rapids and decided to rebuild another high school program.

“I’ve already rebuilt two youth programs at Tartan and Woodbury and I thought I could change the culture here. Tartan and Woodbury had never finished above .500 before and both went to state. I’m not saying Park Rapids is going to state, but I want to get us back to competing with Warroad and East Grand Forks. In order to do that, we need to work with the youth programs and get the numbers back up. I want to get us back to the level where we’re well respected as a program again,” said Moore. “I want to let the kids see the rich tradition of hockey we have here in Park Rapids that they may not know about. This program was good before and I know this program can be good again. We need to start by changing the culture and the attitude that when things go wrong, we’ll never give up. They’ve got to buy into what we’re selling. We need to work hard, have good character, have good academics, and not only be good hockey players, but be good people. The kids have to be willing to change in order to make that happen.”

Despite finishing with a 5-13 overall record a year ago, the Panthers did put a competitive team on the ice as nine games were decided by a single goal and two other games resulted in losses by two goals. The Panthers finished third in the Mid-State Conference standings with a 3-5 record last season. Northern Lakes went undefeated at 8-0 while Detroit Lakes finished at 5-2. Wadena-Deer Creek (2-6) and Prairie Centre (1-6) rounded out the five-team conference standings. With Detroit Lakes dropping out of the Section 8A tournament because of COVID, Park Rapids received the No. 9 seed and opened with a 7-0 loss at No. 8 Bagley/Fosston in a play-in game.

In order to improve on that win total this year, the Panthers will have to improve defensively. Park Rapids allowed an average of 4.6 goals a game while scoring only 2.1 goals a game while being outscored 83-37.

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“I’m a very offensive-minded coach. I like to get up and go, but that’s going to take us a few years,” said Moore. “We’re going to have to be more defensive minded this year. We can’t outrun our opponents, so we’re going to have to play well on the defensive end in order to compete and win.”

Returning to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Nash Mitchell, Jaxson Lund, Sam Meier, Liam Torola and Collin Hoyt; juniors Joey Hillukka, Quincy Jantz and Ethan Eischens; and sophomores Sawyer Torkelson, Jaron Pinoniemi and Josh Hillukka.

Mitchell (seven goals, eight assists), Joey Hillukka (four goals, 10 assists), Lund (eight goals, three assists), and Jantz (three goals, two assists) return to lead the offense while Meier (one goal, one assist) and Eischens (one goal) return on defense. Pinoniemi (three goals as a forward), Torola (one goal, one assist as a forward/defenseman) and Josh Hillukka (one assist as a forward) also contributed in the scoring column while freshmen Quinn Hoscheid (defenseman) and Shad Torola (forward) also return from last year’s varsity.

Splitting time in the net for the Panthers were Torkelson (4-9 record, 53 goals allowed, 427 saves) and Hoyt (1-4 record, 28 goals allowed, 124 saves). Torkelson received Mid-State Conference honorable mention honors.

Being counted on to help fill the voids left by the graduation of last year’s senior forwards Alec Nordin (three goals, seven assists), Caden Opheim (two goals, seven assists) and Jack Slagle (four goals, two assists) and senior defensemen Brody Hagen (nine assists) and Josh Crandall (three assists) are juniors Coby Hagen (defenseman), Wyatt Tisher (forward) and Lars Peterson (forward/defenseman); sophomores Reed Sharp (forward), Evan Wesa (defenseman), Parker Vinge (defenseman), Justin Baker (forward), Wyatt Hegg (forward), Conner Hanson (defenseman), Braden Stewart (defenseman), Kaycee Tisher (forward) and Eli Eischens (forward); and freshman Brock Leiren (defenseman).

“We have the potential to be pretty good and compete. The strength of our team is goaltending and we’re going to build around that,” said Moore, who will be assisted by Sam Coborn and Jared Naeve. “I’d like us to be over .500 and compete for the conference championship. Another major goal is to not have a play-in game. We want to get seeded high enough so we don’t have to play a play-in game. We might have a long way to go to get there, but with a different attitude, the possibility to be much better is there. We need to prove ourselves and step up our game, but I believe the potential is there if the kids buy into what we’re trying to do.”

Contending for the conference title and moving up in the section standings will provide a challenge for the Panthers in Moore’s first season as the head coach. However, Moore is confident his team will accept that challenge and surprise teams this season.

“We only have seven days of practice before we jump right into it, so we don’t have a learning curve. We can’t give games up early if we want to contend for the conference championship,” said Moore. “We need to get a few wins early to gain confidence. We’re going to work hard and hope for the best. Hard work pays off. If the kids believe, I think we have a chance to be a good team.”

Nov. 24 - at Red Lake Falls, 7 p.m.
Dec. 2 - Prairie Centre, 7 p.m. Dec. 4 - South St. Paul, 2 p.m. Dec. 7 - at Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m. Dec. 10 - at Lake of the Woods, 7 p.m. Dec. 14 - Breckenridge/Wahpeton, 7 p.m. Dec. 16 - at Bagley/Fosston, 7 p.m. Dec. 17 - Northern Lakes, 7 p.m. Dec. 21 - Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m. Dec. 28-29 - at Morris tournament.
Jan. 6 - Crookston, 7 p.m. Jan. 8 - at Kittson Central, 2 p.m. Jan. 18 - at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m. Jan. 20 - at Breckenridge/Wahpeton, 7 p.m. Jan. 22 - Lake of the Woods, 2 p.m. Jan. 25 - Prairie Centre at Long Prairie, 7 p.m. Jan. 27 - Northern Lakes at Pequot Lakes, 7 p.m. Jan. 29 - at Crookston, 2 p.m. Jan. 31 - Red Lake Falls, 7 p.m.
Feb. 3 - at Ely, 6 p.m. Feb. 7 - Bagley/Fosston, 7 p.m. Feb. 8 - Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m. Feb. 12 - Kittson Central, 2 p.m. Feb. 15 - Greenway, 7 p.m.