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Boys Hockey: Park Rapids showed improvement, took step forward

The Panthers finished with an 11-15-1 overall record.

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Nash Mitchell (left) capped off his senior season in 2022 by earning Mid-State Conference honors and receiving the team's Matt Spangler Award after scoring 18 goals and tallying 18 assists for the Panthers this season.
Vance Carlson / Park Rapids Enterprise

PARK RAPIDS – Bill Moore was satisfied with the progress the Park Rapids-Menahga-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team made in his first season as head coach.

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.

“It was a good season, but not a great season,” said Moore. “It was a little disappointing. I would have liked to have been over .500. There were three or four games we could have won, but it was a good step forward. We changed the attitude of the players. They believe they can win now. We’re starting to get the program back to the tradition we had in Park Rapids.”

In the season opener, the Panthers were outshot 52-26 in a 7-4 loss to Red Lake Falls and 25-24 in a 7-2 win over Prairie Centre. PRMWHA used a 31-25 edge in shots to defeat South St. Paul 5-3. The Panthers were outshot 42-20 in a 4-1 loss to Detroit Lakes and edged Lake of the Woods 5-4 despite being outshot 32-25. PRMWHA dominated Breckenridge/Wahpeton with a 48-5 advantage in shots in an 8-2 win.

A six-game losing streak followed, beginning with losses to Bagley/Fosston 3-2 (while being outshot 37-32), Northern Lakes 5-2 (despite holding a 28-22 edge in shots) and Wadena-Deer Creek 5-2 (being outshot 31-19). Park Rapids lost both games at the Benson tournament, being outshot by Morris/Benson 32-19 in a 7-2 loss and being outshot 36-28 in a 4-3 overtime loss to Prairie Centre. Despite a 33-21 edge in shots, the Panthers lost to Crookston 7-4.

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Jaxson Lund was named the Panthers' Offensive Player of the Year and earned Mid-State Conference honors after scoring 28 goals and tallying 19 assists during the 2021-22 season.
Vance Carlson / Park Rapids Enterprise

A five-game unbeaten streak followed as the Panthers were outshot 29-26 in an 8-3 win over Kittson Central, outshot 38-32 in a 3-2 win over W-DC, dominated Breckenridge/Wahpeton with a 30-7 advantage in shots in an 11-0 victory, outshot 38-32 in a 2-2 tie with LOW and used a 31-20 edge in shots to defeat Prairie Centre 7-1.

Northern Lakes outshot the Panthers 59-34 in a 9-2 win, Crookston was outshot 34-22 in a 2-1 win and Red Lake Falls overcame a 48-16 deficit in shots for a 5-0 victory. PRMWHA outshot Ely 52-18 in a 4-1 victory and Bagley/Fosston 41-32 in a 6-4 win before being outshot 29-10 in a 5-0 loss to Detroit Lakes, 35-29 in a 7-3 loss to Kittson Central and 38-21 in a 4-2 loss to Greenway.

Detroit Lakes won the Mid-State title with a 10-0 record while Northern Lakes (7-3) and Wadena-Deer Creek (7-4) followed. Morris/Benson (5-4), Prairie Centre (3-10) and Breckenridge/Wahpeton (0-9) trailed the Panthers to round out the conference standings.

In the Section 8A standings, Warroad held the top spot with a 9-0 record with Thief River Falls (8-5), Detroit Lakes (8-3-1), East Grand Forks (5-4), Red Lake Falls (10-2-1), Kittson Central (4-10-1) and Crookston (4-9-1) following. Bagley/Fosston (3-7) and LOW (3-9-1) completed the section standings.

For the Section 8A tournament, the Panthers received the No. 8 seed and defeated No. 9 Bagley/Fosston 6-3 with a 32-23 edge in shots before seeing the season end with a 10-0 loss to No. 1 Warroad, which held a 73-8 advantage in shots. 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.

“The game against Warroad was an eye opener for the kids,” said Moore, whose team was outscored 111-101 while being shut out three times this season. “They got to see how good some players are. I think it lit a fire for our players to become that good.”

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Liam Torola (17) capped off his senior season in 2022 by being named the Panthers' Defensive Player of the Year and receiving the team's Hobey Baker Award.
Vance Carlson / Park Rapids Enterprise

Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Collin Hoyt, Jaxson Lund, Sam Meier, Nash Mitchell and Liam Torola; juniors Ethan Eischens, Coby Hagen, Joey Hillukka, Quincy Jantz and Wyatt Tischer; and sophomores Eli Eischens, Wyatt Hegg, Connor Hanson, Josh Hillukka, Jeron Pinoniemi, Reed Sharp, Braden Stewart, Sawyer Torkelson, Shad Torola and Parker Vinge.

Lund, Mitchell and Joey Hillukka combined for 59 goals and 58 assists for 117 points as the Panthers’ top line. Lund led the team with 28 goals and added 19 assists for 47 points, Mitchell had 18 goals and 18 assists for 36 points, and Hillukka had 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points. Lund (13 goals, nine assists in Mid-State games) and Mitchell (eight goals, eight assists) received all-conference honors while Joey Hillukka (six goals, 15 assists) and Torkelson (3-6 record, 33 goals allowed, 256 saves) were all-conference honorable mention players.

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Also tallying double digits in points were Liam Torola (11 goals, eight assists for 19 points), Pinoniemi (eight goals, nine assists for 17 points) and Jantz (five goals, seven assists for 12 points). Other forwards contributing offensively were Josh Hillukka (one goal, four assists), Shad Torola (three goals, one assist), Tischer (one goal, three assists), Sharp (one goal, three assists), Eli Eischens (one goal) and Hegg (one goal).

Also contributing offensively as defensemen were Vinge (three goals, five assists), Hanson (three goals, four assists), Hagen (two goals, four assists), Meier (one goal, three assists), Stewart (three assists) and Ethan Eischens (one goal).

Torkelson (7-13-1 record, 627 saves, 82 goals allowed, 4.02 goals per game .884 save percentage) and Hoyt (4-2 record, 123 saves, 24 goals allowed, 3.56 goals per game, .837 save percentage) shared time in the nets.

Also seeing varsity time this season were junior Lars Peterson; sophomores Justin Baker, Quinn Hoscheid, Reid Pinoniemi, Kaycee Tischer and Evan Wesa; and freshman Brock Leiren.

Receiving team awards were Lund (Offensive Player of the Year), Liam Torola (Defensive Player of the Year and Hobey Baker Award), Mitchell (Matt Spangler Award) and Joey Hillukka (Panther Award).

Even with the graduation of this year’s senior leaders, Moore is expecting the Panthers to continue improving and closing the gap on the top teams in the conference and section next season.

“Our seniors are definitely going to be missed. They provided 80% of our offense,” said Moore. “We’re not going to be the same team next year. To be successful, we’re going to have to find players to step up offensively and we’re going to have to do a lot better defensively as a group. They’ve had a year of learning my system, so the expectations for success will be much higher. The big thing is to put the work in during the offseason so we can compete with the higher level teams. I’m excited about the character of this team. The goal is to be at 15 wins. I’d be happy with that. The community support has been amazing and the hockey community is hungry for us to get back to being competitive with the higher level teams. Hopefully we can take another big step forward next year. I’m looking forward to it. It should be a lot of fun.”

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The loss drops the Panthers' record to 2-5 against Section 8AA opponents.

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