Bill Moore is looking for the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis-Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys hockey team to take another step in the positive direction this season.
The Panthers followed an 11-15-1 record in Moore’s first season as head coach with a 14-12-1 mark last season. After opening with an 11-5 record, a 2-6-1 finish to the regular season prevented the Panthers from having an even better season.
Park Rapids finished fifth in the Mid-State Conference standings with a 5-5 mark to trail Detroit Lakes (9-1), Morris/Benson (7-3), Northern Lakes (6-3) and Wadena-Deer Creek (6-5). Prairie Centre (3-10) and Breckenridge/Wahpeton (0-9) rounded out the conference standings.
In last year’s Section 8A tournament, the Panthers received the No. 8 seed and opened with a 2-1 overtime win over No. 9 Bagley/Fosston in a play-in game before falling to No. 1 Warroad 8-0 in the quarterfinals. Warroad defeated East Grand Forks 5-1 for the section title.
“We’re going to have more depth this year,” said Moore. “We’re going to be more balanced offensively. Everyone on our first through third lines can score, which is a big plus. We have a number of players who should step up and fill the goals we lost (through graduation).”
Returning to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Sawyer Torkelson, Jeron Pinoniemi, Joshua Hillukka, Parker Vinge, Conner Hanson, Braden Stewart, Reed Sharp, Shad Torola and Quinn Hoscheid; juniors Kale Ravnaas, Talen May and Cooper Brovold; and freshman Finn Henry.
Torkelson returns as the starting goalie after earning Section 8A and Mid-State honors last season. Torkelson played all but one period in the nets, posting a 14-12-1 record with 93 goals allowed and 791 saves for a 88.2 save percentage and three shutouts in 27 games.
Pinoniemi received all-conference honorable mention honors after finishing second on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 13 assists for 33 points in 27 games. Also back to lead the offense are Hillukka (7 goals, 15 assists for 22 points in 27 games), Vinge (9 goals, 11 assists for 20 points in 26 games), Ravnaas (16 goals, 3 assists for 19 points in 26 games), Hanson (3 goals, 13 assists for 16 points in 23 games) and Stewart (4 goals, 8 assists for 12 points in 26 games).
Also contributing offensively last season were Sharp (1 goal, 8 assists in 26 games), May (7 assists in 24 games), Torola (3 goals, 2 assists in 20 games), Henry (1 goal, 3 assists in 18 games), Brovold (1 goal, 2 assists in 27 games) and Hoscheid (22 games). Hanson, Stewart and May return as the top defensemen.
Providing depth on offense are seniors Evan Wesa and Brenden Heinonen; juniors Matt Berdahl and Trevor Lobeck; sophomores Lou Wesa and Chance Landstrom; and freshman Ethan Torola while sophomore Connor Murdoff and freshmen Owen Hoverson and Brayden Crissinger will provide depth on defense.
That group will look to replace the contributions of last year’s senior crew of Joey Hillukka (an all-conference player who led the team with 23 goals and 23 assists for 46 points), Wyatt Tischer, Lars Peterson, Reid Pinoniemi and Paul Peterson.
“We have a lot of players back, but we’re only going to be as good as our work ethic and attitude take us,” said Moore. “I think we’ll compete each night and have a chance to win. We’re going to have to outwork everybody we play.”
With a talented group returning, Moore is counting on the Panthers to challenge Detroit Lakes and Morris/Benson for the conference title and earn a high seed to avoid a play-in game once the Section 8A tournament begins.
“I’m hoping we finish in the top 2 or the top 3 in the conference. DL is going to be really good and Morris/Benson has a good team, but I think we can beat them,” said Moore. “I think we can be in the top 6 in the section. It would be nice not to have to play a play-in game. I’m excited, but cautiously optimistic, about this year.”
Nov. 24 – at Simley tournament, 6 p.m. Nov. 25 – at Simley tournament, 2 p.m.
Dec. 5 – Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m. Dec. 7 – at Lake of the Woods, 6 p.m. Dec. 12 – Breckenridge/Wahpeton, 7 p.m. Dec. 14 – vs. Bagley/Fosston at Bagley, 7 p.m. Dec. 16 – Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m. Dec. 21 – at Red Lake Falls, 7 p.m. Dec. 22 – Prairie Centre, 7 p.m. Dec. 30 – at Greenway, 6 p.m.
Jan. 4 – Crookston, 7 p.m. Jan. 6 – at Kittson Central, 1 p.m. Jan. 12 – vs. Prairie Centre at Sauk Centre, 7 p.m. Jan. 16 – at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m. Jan. 18 – vs. Breckenridge/Wahpeton at Wahpeton, 7 p.m. Jan. 20 – at Ely, 3 p.m. Jan. 29 – at Crookston, 7 p.m. Jan. 30 – Red Lake Falls, 6 p.m.
Feb. 1 – Lake of the Woods, 6 p.m. Feb. 5 – Bagley/Fosston, 7 p.m. Feb. 6 – at Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m. Feb. 9 – Morris/Benson, 7 p.m. Feb. 10 – Kittson Central, 1 p.m. Feb. 13 – Greenway, 7 p.m. Feb. 15 – vs. Morris/Benson at Morris, 7 p.m.
1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987