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Boys Hockey: Finding offense to support strong defense will be key to Park Rapids' success

The Panthers are looking to build off last year's 11-15-1 record.

HockeySeniors2.JPG
Among the players looking to lead the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team to a successful 2022-2023 season are seniors (from left) Paul Peterson, Reid Pinoniemi, Joey Hillukka, Lars Peterson, Wyatt Tischer and Coby Hagen.
Vance Carlson / Park Rapids Enterprise
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Finding players to produce on offense will dictate how much success the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team has this season.

Last year’s seniors combined to score 58 of the team’s 100 goals and assisted on 17 other goals while tallying 48 of the team’s 112 assists. Replacing the numbers produced by forwards Jaxson Lund (28 goals, 19 assists), Nash Mitchell (18 goals, 18 assists) and Liam Torola (11 goals, eight assists) along with defenseman Sam Meier (one goal, three assists) and back-up goalie Collin Hoyt (4-2 record, 123 saves, 24 goals allowed, 3.56 goals per game, .837 save percentage) will be a challenge. Lund and Mitchell were Mid-State Conference players.

However, the return of a strong defensive unit has head coach Bill Moore expecting his team to be competitive in every game this season.

Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Joey Hillukka (forward), Coby Hagen (defenseman), Wyatt Tischer (forward), Lars Peterson (defenseman), Paul Peterson (forward) and Reid Pinoniemi (defenseman); juniors Sawyer Torkelson (goalie), Reed Sharp (defenseman), Parker Vinge (forward), Conner Hanson (defenseman), Braden Stewart (defenseman), Josh Hillukka (forward), Jeron Pinoniemi (forward), Evan Wesa (defenseman), Wyatt Hegg (forward), Quinn Hoscheid (defenseman), Shad Torola (forward) and Kaycee Tischer (forward); and sophomores Talon May (forward), Brock Leiren (defenseman), Kale Ravnaas (forward), Cooper Brovold (forward) and Trevor Lobeck (forward). Rounding out the roster are freshman Lou Wesa (forward) and eighth graders Cooper Tischer (goalie), Ethan Torola (forward), Finn Henry (defenseman), Jack Christensen (forward), Chad Pinoniemi (forward), Owen Hoverson (defenseman) and Rylie Wesa (forward).

Joey Hillukka (13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points) joined Torkelson (7-13-1 record, 627 saves, 82 goals allowed, 4.02 goals per game .884 save percentage) as all-conference honorable mention players last season. In addition to Joey Hillukka, Jeron Pinoniemi (eight goals, nine assists), Vinge (three goals, five assists), Josh Hillukka (one goal, four assists), Shad Torola (three goals, one assist), Wyatt Tischer (one goal, three assists) and Hegg (one goal) return after playing key minutes offensively last season. Back to lead the defense are Hanson (three goals, four assists), Hagen (two goals, four assists), Sharp (one goal, three assists) and Stewart (three assists). Joey Hillukka will serve as captain with Hagen and Torkelson serving as alternate captains.

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“Our defense is going to be strong with Sawyer keeping us in every game. I think we’ll be much stronger defensively. We’re not going to give up so many easy goals. Our goal is to keep the opponent under three goals a game. If we give up more than two goals a game, I’ll be disappointed,” said Moore, who will be assisted by Sam Coborn. “We’re going to be deeper and teams will have a harder time not being able to key on only one line. The question is where are we going to get our goals from. We need to find people to step up on the offensive end. I think we have the guys who will step up and score goals. We’ll see who those guys are.”

Last season, the Panthers went 5-7 against Mid-State Conference rivals, 4-9-1 against Section 8A opponents and 11-15-1 overall, marking the first season with double-digit wins since the 2015-16 season. For the Section 8A tournament, the Panthers received the No. 8 seed and defeated No. 9 Bagley/Fosston 6-3 before seeing the season end with a 10-0 loss to No. 1 Warroad. Warroad defeated Thief River Falls 4-1 in the section championship game and lost to Hermantown 3-2 in the state Class A title game.

“Our expectations are higher than last year. We’re not starting from square one. The kids have a year under me and they know my system, so we can work more on skill development,” said Moore. “The kids have a good attitude and I think our team chemistry is a lot stronger. We’re hoping to gain respect. I thought we were a better team than where we were seeded last year. We gave away four games that we should have won. Hopefully the lessons learned from those games will carry over and help us win those close games this year. The key will be if we can score consistently. If we can solve that riddle, we’ll be a pretty good team.”

SEASON SCHEDULE

Nov. 26 – vs. Waconia, 1 p.m.Dec. 2 – at South St. Paul, 7 p.m.

Dec. 6 – vs. Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m. Dec. 8 – vs. Lake of the Woods, 7 p.m. Dec. 13 – vs. Wahpeton/Breckenridge, 7 p.m. Dec. 15 – vs. Bagley/Fosston, 7 p.m. Dec. 16 – vs. Northern Lakes, 7 p.m. Dec. 20 – at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m. Dec. 22 – vs. Red Lake Falls, 6 p.m. Jan. 5 – at Crookston, 7 p.m. Jan. 7 – vs. Kittson Central, 2 p.m. Jan. 9 – at Prairie Centre (Long Prairie), 7 p.m. Jan. 17 – vs. Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m. Jan. 19 - at Wahpeton/Breckenridge, 7 p.m. Jan. 24 – vs. Prairie Centre, 7 p.m. Jan. 27 – vs. Ely, 6 p.m. Jan. 30 – vs. Crookston, 7 p.m. Jan. 31 – vs. Red Lake Falls, 7 p.m.

Feb. 6 – at Bagley/Fosston, 7 p.m. Feb. 7 – at Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m. Feb. 10 – vs. Morris/Benson, 7 p.m. Feb. 11 – at Kittson Central, 2 p.m. Feb. 14 – at Greenway, 7 p.m. Feb. 16 – vs. Willmar, 6 p.m.

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The Panthers prevail 2-1 despite going 1 for 10 on the power play against South St. Paul.

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