Panthers look to move up in section standings

Derek Ricke appreciated the way the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team bought into his philosophy in his first season as head coach.

Leading the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team this season will be seniors (front from left) Cameron Hoyt, Tom Melvin, Logan Arndt, Carter Opheim; (back) Jenson Rice, Nolan Pederson, Brendan Kruchowski, Cody Sagen, Jordan Baker. Not pictured: Brett Pinoniemi. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Derek Ricke appreciated the way the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team bought into his philosophy in his first season as head coach.

Now Ricke is counting on his team to continue the process this season.

Despite finishing with an 8-17-2 overall record, the Panthers ended the season on a positive note by defeating Red Lake Falls in a Section 8A playoff game before falling to Warroad in the section quarterfinals. Ricke is looking for the Panthers to pick up where they left off.

"Last year we instilled a culture on how we want to play and what we want to be as a hockey team," said Ricke, who will be assisted by Greg Chromy and Tyler Lehrke. "We hope to continue to build on that and take a step forward this year."

Park Rapids played well in Mid-State Conference games, finishing with a 3-4-1 record to finish second in the standings. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with an 8-0 record while Wadena-Deer Creek (3-5), Northern Lakes (3-5) and Prairie Centre (2-5-1) rounded out the standings.


The Panthers also played well against the lower teams in the section, outscoring Red Lake Falls and Bagley 41-4 in winning all five games against those two teams. However, Park Rapids was outscored 55-14 by the top teams in the section, going 0-12-1 against Warroad, East Grand Forks, Crookston, Thief River Falls, Lake of the Woods, Detroit Lakes and Kittson County Central.

Park Rapids received the No. 8 seed for the section playoffs and shut out No. 9 Red Lake Falls 8-0 before being eliminated with a 4-0 loss to No. 1 Warroad. Thief River Falls, the No. 4 seed, defeated No. 2 East Grand Forks 4-0 in the section championship game and went on to win the consolation title at the state Class A tournament.

For the season, the Panthers scored 79 goals while allowing 84. Park Rapids was shut out seven times and scored one goal in four other games while shutting out the opposition three times.

Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are the 10 seniors who saw varsity action last season. That group features Brendan Kruchowski, Jenson Rice, Brett Pinoniemi, Cody Sagen, Tom Melvin, Carter Opheim, Cameron Hoyt, Nolan Pederson, Logan Arndt and Jordan Baker.

Kruchowski will take over as the starting goaltender after going 3-1 and allowing nine goals while making 91 saves and recording one shutout last season.

Returning to lead the offense at forward are Opheim (six goals, 10 assists), Pederson (eight goals, two assists), Hoyt (six goals, three assists), Melvin (five goals, one assist), Sagen (one goal, three assists), Baker (one goal, one assist) and Arndt (one assist).

Pinoniemi (five goals, four assists) and Rice (one goal, one assist) return as the top defensemen with Melvin also playing defense this season. Pinoniemi received all-conference honorable mention honors last season.

Also back from last year's team are junior Josh Kuhlman (one goal, one assist) and sophomore Brody Hagen (one goal, one assist) at forward. Sophomore Ben Standlie will be the backup goalie.


The Panthers have nine key spots to fill. Five players graduated, another was a foreign-exchange student and three players elected not to return this season.

Austin Jerger and Josh Baker received all-conference honors while Shea Alto was an all-conference honorable mention player as seniors last season. Jerger posted a 5-16-2 record in 23 starts at goalie. Jerger allowed 70 goals and made 692 saves with two shutouts. Baker was third on the team in scoring with 11 goals and five assists while Alto was fifth in scoring with nine goals and six assists. Defenseman Micah Link (two goals, three assists) and Connor Link (one goal, four assists) also graduated.

Christoffer Madsen, a foreign-exchange student from Denmark, contributed two goals and five assists as a defenseman. Bjorn Jorgenson (an all-conference honorable mention forward who led the team with 10 goals and 10 assists as a junior) and Wyatt Halvorson (who had eight goals and eight assists at forward as a sophomore) both moved to Bemidji while Jimmy Hillukka (one goal, four assists as a defenseman) decided not to return for his senior season.

Looking to fill those gaps are sophomores Joshua Crandall (defenseman), Joseph Huber (forward), Alec Nordin (forward), Jaden Powers (forward), Caden Opheim (forward/defenseman), Jack Slagle (defenseman) and Kyron Wohlenhaus (forward).

"We have a good group of guys, but we're going to be thin. We had some key unexpected losses, so we're going to have to rely more on the young guys," said Ricke. "The young guys are going to be asked to fill some key roles. How they do will be a key to how we fare. The key to our success will be doing the ugly stuff and focusing on doing the right things. We're going to do the best we can by focusing on the things we need to do to be successful."

In a pre-season poll by the section coaches, Warroad, East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls were selected as the top teams with Crookston, Detroit Lakes, Kittson County Central and Lake of the Woods following. Park Rapids was chosen No. 8 with Red Lake Falls and Bagley/Fosston rounding out the section.

Ricke is looking for his team to improve as the season progresses and finish higher than the No. 8 seed for the section tournament.

"A lot of other teams also had a lot of losses, so the opportunity is there for us to make a jump and move up in the standings," said Ricke. "We're definitely going to be competitive this season. We want to be a team that no one wants to play. If everyone continues to buy into the process and culture, we're going to be a tough team to beat at the end of the year."



Nov. 29 - at Bagley/Fosston, 7 p.m.

Dec. 4 - vs. Prairie Centre, 7 p.m. Dec. 6 - vs. East Grand Forks at Walker, 6 p.m. Dec. 8 - vs. Lake of the Woods, 2 p..m Dec. 11 - at Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m. Dec. 13 - at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m. Dec. 15 - at Lake of the Woods, 2 p.m. Dec. 18 - vs. Crookston, 7 p.m. Dec. 20 - vs. Northern Lakes at Walker, 7 p.m. Dec. 27-29 - at Two Harbors tournament.

Jan. 4 - vs. Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m. Jan. 5 - at Kittson Central, 7 p.m. Jan. 8 - at Thief River Falls, 7 p.m. Jan. 10 - at Crookston, 7 p.m. Jan. 12 - vs. Red Lake Falls, 1 p.m. Jan. 15 - vs. Bagley/Fosston at Walker, 7 p.m. Jan. 17 - at Northern Lakes, 7 p.m. Jan. 22 - at Warroad, 7 p.m. Jan. 24 - vs. Wahpeton/Breckenridge, 7 p.m. Jan. 29 - at Prairie Centre, 7 p.m.

Feb. 5 - at Red Lake Falls, 7 p.m. Feb. 9 - vs. Kittson Central at Walker, 2 p.m. Feb. 12 - vs. Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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