Panthers put competitive team on ice

Three one-goal losses, including two in overtime, and a late-season loss to Crookston prevented the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley girls hockey team from finishing with a .500 record and hosting a Section 8A playoff game.

Lexi Hinkley-Smith
Lexi Hinkley-Smith (18) earned Mid-State Conference honors and team MVP honors after leading the Panthers in scoring with 12 goals and six assists for 18 points.

     Three one-goal losses, including two in overtime, and a late-season loss to Crookston prevented the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley girls hockey team from finishing with a .500 record and hosting a Section 8A playoff game.

     The Panthers improved on both ends of the ice by scoring 14 more goals and allowing 10 fewer goals than a year ago. However, scoring only two goals a game, being shut out eight times and losing some close games resulted in an 8-17 overall record.

     A year ago, the Panthers were held to 37 goals while giving up 114 goals in going 3-3 in Mid-State Conference play, 0-9 against section opponents and 6-17-1.

     This season, the Panthers scored 51 goals while allowing 104 in going 3-3 in conference play and 1-10 against section teams.

     Despite closing the scoring gap, the Panthers were outscored by 53 goals this season. The Panthers outshot their opponents in only eight games while recording only one shutout.


     Park Rapids held a 33-13 advantage in shots in a 4-1 season-opening win over Morris/Benson and was outshot 24-18 in a 3-2 Mid-State Conference win over Northern Lakes.

     A four-game losing streak followed as the Panthers dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to Eveleth-Gilbert despite having a 28-22 edge in shots, were outshot 52-13 in a 5-0 loss to International Falls and 41-13 in a 7-1 loss to Thief River Falls, and suffered a 5-2 conference loss to Detroit Lakes while being outshot 33-18.

     At the Thief River Falls tournament, the Panthers were outshot 47-28, but pulled off a key 5-4 overtime win over Crookston before being outshot 26-6 in a 3-0 loss to Thief River Falls. Fargo North/South followed by using a 42-22 advantage in shots for a 5-2 victory.

     Back-to-back wins followed as the Panthers used a 32-10 edge in shots to defeat Morris/Benson 5-1 and overcame a 17-16 deficit in shots in a 4-0 shutout over Eveleth-Gilbert.

     After suffering a 4-3 overtime loss to Detroit Lakes in which the Panthers were outshot 44-24, Park Rapids was outscored 18-0 in losses to East Grand Forks (7-0), Warroad (8-0) and Bemidji (3-0). EGF held a 51-13 advantage in shots, Warroad outshot the Panthers 47-15 and Bemidji held a 32-18 advantage in shots.

     At the Crookston tournament, the Panthers dominated Devils Lake in a 6-1 victory with a 32-9 advantage in shots before losses to Prairie Centre (3-2), International Falls (6-0) and Crookston (4-1) followed. Prairie Centre used a 35-21 advantage in shots for the conference win while International Falls prevailed despite being outshot 24-20. Crookston held a 29-24 edge in shots and scored three times in the first 4:25 to avenge the loss earlier in the season.

     Park Rapids put together back-to-back conference wins as a 37-36 edge in shots led to a 3-2 victory over Northern Lakes while a 28-18 advantage in shots led to a 3-1 win over Prairie Centre.

     The Panthers closed out the regular season by being outscored 22-1 in losses to Warroad (11-0), East Grand Forks (4-1) and Bemidji (7-0). Warroad held a 58-7 advantage in shots, East Grand Forks was outshot 31-30 and Bemidji held a 50-14 advantage in shots.


     For the Section 8A playoffs, the Panthers received the No. 5 seed and opened with a 6-3 loss to Detroit Lakes. The Lakers, who were the No. 4 seed, held a 40-25 advantage in shots.

     Warroad ended the season rated No. 3 in the state Class A poll and went on to place third at the state tournament. Thief River Falls was rated No. 4 and East Grand Forks was rated No. 17. Fargo North/South took third at the North Dakota state tournament.

     Of Park Rapids’ 13 opponents, five – Warroad (25-4-1), Thief River Falls (20-6-1), Fargo North/South (15-10-1), International Falls (14-11) and Prairie Centre (13-12) - had winning records. East Grand Forks (11-16) and Bemidji (10-16) had double digits in wins while Detroit Lakes (9-18), Eveleth-Gilbert (7-17-2), Northern Lakes (4-21-2), Morris/Benson (3-15), Crookston (2-23) and Devils Lake (1-21) also had losing records.

Detroit Lakes and Prairie Centre tied for the conference title with 4-2 records while the Panthers finished 3-3. Northern Lakes went 1-5.

     “We set our goals pretty high. Our goals were to finish at .500, win the Mid-State Conference title and get a home playoff game,” said Park Rapids head coach Gary Vaudrin. “Looking back at the season, we lost some close games. If we would have won the two overtime games we lost, won the first game against Prairie Centre and beat Crookston the second time, we would have been right there. Our problem was we weren’t consistent. If we would have played more consistently, we would have hit the .500 mark. The girls worked hard and never quit. They gave it all they had.”

     Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Tayah Otterness, Emma Gribbin, Josey Umthun and Lexi King; juniors Serena Aletto, Brooke Jerger, Julia Smith and Allyson Vaudrin; sophomores Lexi Hinkley-Smith, Tara Johanning, Paige Myhre and Taylor Sagen; and freshmen Alexa Kennedy, Kinley Nordin, Kylee Pachel and Olivia Ulvin. Otterness, Gribbin and Umthun served as captains.

     Otterness and Gribbin received Section 8A honorable mention honors after leading the Panthers’ defensive unit. Otterness joined Hinkley-Smith and Johanning as all-conference players while Gribbin joined Jerger and Sagen as all-conference honorable mention players.

     Hinkley-Smith was named the Panthers’ MVP and Most Valuable Offensive Player after leading the team with 12 goals and six assists for 18 points.


     Johanning was second in scoring at 16 points with six goals and 10 assists while Sagen was third with 12 points on eight goals and four assists.

     Otterness was named the team’s Most Defensive Player and contributed eight goals and two assists for 10 points. Otterness also earned All-State Academic honors.

     Jerger tied for fourth in scoring with 10 points (eight goals, two assists) while Myhre followed with one goal and seven assists for eight points).

     Also contributing on the offensive end were Aletto (one goal, four assists), Kennedy (four goals, one assist), Gribbin (four assists), Umthun (one goal, three assists), Nordin (one goal, three assists) and Vaudrin (one goal, two assists).

     Smith and Pachel split goaltending duties with Smith going 4-11 with 434 saves and 68 goals allowed and Pachel going 4-6 with 247 saves and 36 goals allowed.

     In addition, Otterness, Gribbin, Umthun and King received Senior Awards while Vaudrin, Sagen, Myhre, Pachel and Kennedy received Coaches Awards. Gribbin was named Most Dedicated, Nordin was named Most Improved, King received the Hobey Baker Award and Umthun received the John Kisner Award.

     “We lose four quality seniors who provided a lot of experience and leadership. Hopefully we’ll be able to find players to step up and take us to the next level,” said Vaudrin. “We didn’t have a junior varsity, so we skated three lines every game and that experience is only going to help us. We have some good experience coming back and some good, quality young players. I saw a lot of quality improvement from the younger players. We have to start scoring more, play together as a team and be ready to play for 51 minutes. It’s going to be tough to compete with the big three (Warroad, Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks), but we should be able to close the gap on them and compete with the rest. Every year our goals are to win the Mid-State, get to the .500 mark and get a home playoff game. If we can find team chemistry and find a way to score more goals, we should be able to reach those goals.”

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