FAIRMONT - The Fairmont Area Cardinal boys hockey team is focusing on going back to the basics for the 2012-13 campaign.
First-year head coach Brady Meyer's young lineup returns nine players, but will be looking for some offensive firepower.
"We have a few guys who are coming out for the team this season that have never played hockey before. So we really want to try and keep things as simple and effective as we can," said Meyer.
ICY RETURN?— Members of the Fairmont Area boys hockey team opening the season by playing host to St. Peter/Le Sueur-Henderson at 1 p.m. Saturday at Martin County Arena in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Managers Brittany Lowe, Colton Wills, Natalie Shimon and Lexi Johnson. Middle row: Josh Abel, Colton Cunning, Matt Lytle, Josh Wills, Carter Welchlin, Sam Havnen, Derrick Hohensee and Ben Mitchell. Back row: Assistant coach Joel Meyer, assistant coach Clint Forstrom, Brock Johnson, Kalon Wilson, Joe Nordquist, Rodney Engstrom, Brandon Jensen, Grant Becker, Trason Arens and head coach Brady Meyer. Not pictured: Greg Claeys and Gregg Nicoson. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Senior captain Grant Becker, who recorded nine points last season, will lead the charge on the Cardinals' top line, but is one of just five seniors. Kalon Wilson also is a returning senior, while Carter Welchlin, Gregg Nicoson and Brandon Jensen are each lacing up the skates for the team for the first time.
"Our systems are pretty basic. We did that to try and keep it simple for both the younger players and for the ones who haven't played before," said Meyer. "We want them to play within the system, but not necessarily feel constrained. They have the option be more creative that way."
Wilson and Brock Johnson will line up with Becker, while Greg Claeys - who's coming off winning the Class AAA state football championship with Blue Earth Area - and Ben Mitchell will hold down the blue line on the top line.
The Cardinals' offense will have its work cut out for it in replacing graduated standout Ross Wilken's 18 goals, along with Jacob Lemon's eight goals and Kyle Engstrom's six, from last season.
"We have a pretty athletic group of players. A lot of them are soccer players and we had a good season there," said Meyer. "Having athletes on the ice, especially ones familiar with soccer, helps because the games are similar. We have really been stressing the stick handling, skating and shooting these first weeks trying to get everyone up to speed."
Junior captain Trason Arens will help hold down the blue line with defensive partner Rodney Engstrom on the second line.
"Trason, I think, will really step up for us this year defensively. We moved him from defense to forward last year and this season we're moving him back. But he's been stepping up for us already, so that's great," said Meyer.
Another crucial position for the Cardinals will be between the pipes as sophomore Colton Cunning and junior Derrick Hohensee battle it out for a spot in the crease.
"Right now we haven't made a decision yet for who will be in net. They play the same butterfly type of style and they are mirror images of one another, so we don't know who will be in net for us yet," said Meyer.
The Cardinals' four-game home stint begins with the home opener at 1 p.m. Saturday against St. Peter/Le Sueur-Henderson at the Martin County Arena. The Cardinals then have a week off before facing Waseca on Dec. 7. Luverne and Worthington close out the final two games of the home stand before the Cardinals travel to New Ulm on Dec. 18.
"New Ulm is probably the team to beat in the conference and the section. Luverne had a solid team last year and returned a good squad, so that will be good game for us to have early in the season," said Meyer.
For now, Brady Meyer, along with assistant coaches Clint Forstrom and Joel Meyer, will focus on improving and working on the basics.
"We have a good core of guys that are back for us, but we will need the whole team. So far the chemistry is great and they play well together. We are just trying to get everyone feeling comfortable on the ice," said Brady Meyer.
There are still some kinks to be worked out for the young team, but the improvement already has been noticeable.
"We had a scrimmage last Saturday, and for some of the players it was their first hockey game. There was a learning curve there, with blocking pucks and taking hits. I thought there was some excellent improvement though already, so that is great," said Meyer.