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Seeing red no more

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 02/16/12, 10:00PM CST

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Park Rapids claims Mid-State Conference title with victory at Detroit Lakes


Cody Brumbaugh (35) of Park Rapids made 26 saves on 27 shots Thursday night in a victory over Detroit Lakes. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen


Park Rapids players celebrate Sam Coborn's short-handed goal late in the first period.

Park Rapids Area coach Pete Stahnke normally decks out his lines in different colored jerseys during practices. Each line is represented by a shade of practice jersey, which also signifies their assignment. When the Panthers took to the ice this week, though, one color was off limits.

Red.
 
Or more specifically, Detroit Lakes red.
 
So when one of the lines donned the red jerseys for a practice session, they were quickly ushered off the ice.

“We told them to get off the ice and change their jerseys,” laughed junior defenseman Ian Johnson after the properly orange and black-clad Panthers beat Detroit Lakes 3-1 Thursday, Feb. 16 to claim the Mid-State Conference title for the second time in three years.

“We didn’t want to see any red on the ice.”
 
Such is the rivalry between the two towns, separated by 45 miles of Highway 34 winding through the northwoods. Both teams play in the Mid-State, matching up twice a season. The series has been back-and-forth over the past few years with neither team racking up a big winning streak over the other.

But this is the third year in a row the conference race has come down to a meeting between the two programs.

“This is the one,” said Detroit Lakes’ coach Chris Denardo, whose Lakers swept Park Rapids en route to a title last winter. “It’s tough to lose to these guys. This is the one that really gets under your skin.”

“Sharing the title is not an option,” agreed Stahnke, who told his team exactly that before the game. A loss would have left the two teams in a tie for first place. “It doesn’t feel good sharing it when you come away with a loss. We were definitely playing to win.”

The game had a playoff atmosphere. Fans from both towns packed the bleachers on the north side of the rink – but didn’t mingle. Each group was loud and confident of their team’s chances.

“It’s high-intensity the whole time,” described Detroit Lakes senior Alex Mason of the rivalry.

Defenseman Jamie Stewart gave the visiting Panthers’ fans the first rallying point, scoring just 6 minutes, 16 seconds into the first period on the power play. The opposing fans cranked up the volume later in the first when all-time leading scorer Sam Coburn netted a nifty short-handed goal to make it 2-0.

Coborn ragged the puck to center ice, stopped at the blue line and appeared ready to dump the puck. Instead, the senior captain spun away from the Detroit Lakes' defenseman, bolted to the high slot and ripped a shot past Lakers' goaltender MacKenzie Steele.

“Everybody knows him, so it’s not a surprise. But they still can’t get him,” said Stahnke, who has had Coborn on the varsity for four years. His scouting report would be to put a body on the star Panther, but that’s easier said than done. “It doesn’t matter what they do. He’s so shifty and can turn on a dime.”

From there, the teams traded goals for a 3-1 final score. Cody Brumbaugh made 26 saves for the Panthers, while Steele had 21 stops for Detroit Lakes.

After turning over the conference title to Detroit Lakes last winter, the Panthers reclaimed the crown on their biggest rival’s home ice. Fans greeted the players like rock stars after the game, lining the player tunnel to give high-fives and pats on the back.

But the best part for Park Rapids fans? Not a drop of red was in sight.

Frank Moren (3) assisted on Cory Odland's third-period goal that gave Park Rapids a 3-0 lead.

Quick hits

Playoff primer

Park Rapids enters the Section 8A playoffs on a six-game winning streak, which coincided with the move of big forward Ian Johnson back to defense. He’s been an anchor on the blue line according to coach Pete Stahnke -- and a big reason why the Panthers are on a roll.

“It was for the better of the team and it’s worked out good,” said Johnson, who assisted on both first period goals Thursday night.

The Panthers received the No. 5 seed in the upcoming playoffs and will play No. 4 Crookston, a team they lost to twice during the regular season.

Detroit Lakes is also in the Section 8A playoffs after playing in 6A the previous two years. The Lakers picked up the No. 6 seed and must travel to No. 3 Warroad, which hosts all section quarterfinals, semifinals and finals this year.

“They’re gritty, like we are,” said Lakers’ coach Chris Denardo. “I think it’s a good matchup for us, although I’m a little concerned about playing up on their home turf on that big rink.”

Statistics, Summary

Game recap

Sam Coborn scored the shorthanded game-winner as Park Rapids Area claimed the Mid-State Conference title with a 3-1 victory at Detroit Lakes Thursday, Feb. 16. His goal with 2 minutes, 58 seconds left in the first period gave the Panthers (13-12-0) the outright crown.

With Park Rapids already ahead 1-0 on a Jamie Stewart goal, Coborn ragged the puck to center ice while killing a penalty late in the opening period. He stopped at the blue line and appeared ready to dump the puck. Instead, the senior captain spun away from the Detroit Lakes' defenseman, bolted to the high slot and ripped a shot past Lakers' goaltender MacKenzie Steele.

Cory Odland also scored for the Panthers, while forward-turned-defenseman Ian Johnson added two assists. Sophomore goaltender Cody Brumbaugh made 26 saves on 27 shots, but his biggest save of the night came just minutes after a disallowed Detroit Lakes goal in the second period, when he stoned Alex Mason on a point-blank attempt.

Detroit Lakes (10-15-0) trailed 3-0 into the third period, but rallied with a goal from Austin Rusness 5 minutes, 58 seconds into the frame. Rusness tapped in the goal to complete a great passing play from Mason. The Lakers outshot Park Rapids in each of the final two periods, but could get no closer.

Steele had 21 saves for the Lakers, sitting out the final 43 seconds for an extra attacker.

1. Ian Johnson, Park Rapids
Johnson, who began the year as a top forward for Park Rapids, was shifted back to the blue line a few games back -- and the results have been outstanding. The big junior picked up two assists in the first period as the Panthers raced to a 2-0 lead. He gives Park Rapids a physical presence on the blue line but also has the ability to rush the puck.

2. Sam Coborn, Park Rapids
Coborn continued to add to his school record career point total, scoring the game-winner on a short-handed rush. The shifty senior lulled the Detroit Lakes defense as he pushed the puck up ice, stopped at the blue line and appeared ready to dump the puck. Instead, he reversed direction and got to full speed in two steps, creating enough space to rip in the game-winner with 2 minutes, 58 seconds left in the first.

3. Cody Brumbaugh, Park Rapids
The sophomore goaltender stopped 26 of 27 shots, including 21 over the final two periods as Detroit Lakes attempted to rally. He was tested during a 12-1/2 minute span of the second when the Panthers were shorthanded for nine minutes -- including a five-minute major. His toe save on Detroit Lakes' leading scorer Alex Mason kept the Lakers at bay.

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Micah Miller leaps to the fans after scoring the game winner.

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com