FAIRMONT - Colton Cunning sprawled, stretched and dove to either deflect or smother all seven of Redwood Valley's shots on goal during the visitors' frenetic 6-on-5 last-minute barrage on Friday night.
When the final horn sounded at Martin County Arena, the Fairmont Area sophomore goaltender had persevered under pressure to preserve the hometown Cardinals' 5-4 non-league hockey victory on the strength of 36 saves.
Sophomore forward Matt Lytle delivered a stellar four-point performance, including a pair of bookend goals, to help Fairmont Area match its best offensive effort of the season. The hometown Cardinals generated five goals during their only other victory - a 5-2 decision over Waseca on Dec. 7.
BLUE-LINE RELEASE — Fairmont Area’s Matt Lytle (right) prepares to crank a shot from the blue line as Redwood Valley’s Kollin Joines (middle) pursues during nonconference hockey action Friday night at Martin County Arena. Fairmont Area’s Grant Becker (left) trails the play. Photo by Leanna Becker
The hard-nosed Lytle also displayed his mettle by taking a Redwood Valley shot off of his facemask while helping the Fairmont Area defense fend off the visitors' one-attacker advantage during the final 31 seconds of regulation.
Cunning got a stick, glove or pad on every one of the visiting Cardinals' late blasts before defender Greg Claeys finally was able to clear the puck the length of the ice to allow time to elapse.
"Colton (Cunning) turned in quite a game tonight," Fairmont Area head coach Brady Meyer said. "I thought our entire defense played very well tonight as we were able to get some nice scoring opportunities from our defensemen."
Defender Trason Arens did exactly that by triggering Lytle's initial goal of the contest. Arens weaved through neutral ice before drilling a shot from the point at Redwood Valley netminder Jordan Houle. Houle deflected the rising shot only to watch as the nimble Lytle quickly flipped home the carom inside the left pipe from the doorstep. Lytle's goal came with 6:09 left in the opening frame.
Lytle then turned playmaker by taking a feed from Grant Becker, rushed the right side and spotted teammate Brock Johnson speeding to his left. Lytle hit Johnson on the tape and Johnson unleashed a left-wing, power-play riser that cleared Houle's shoulder and stretched the top right-shelf net for a 2-0 Fairmont Area lead with 4:07 left in the first frame.
Redwood Valley's Chris Hallden, however, answered Fairmont Area's challenge by corraling a loose puck near neutral ice before wristing the left-side shot past Cunning at the 16:20 mark of the second period.
Lytle and Joe Nordquist then utilized solid passing to work up the ice before Becker stuffed home a putback shot near the left pipe to restore the home team's two-goal edge at the 12:38 juncture.
Defenseman Ben Mitchell then pick-pocketed a Redwood Valley player trying to clear the zone and quickly flipped the puck past Houle for a 4-1 Fairmont Area margin with 11:45 left in the second.
Zach Blum then converted a double-assist from Kollin Joines and Logan Sandgren into a Redwood Valley power-play goal at the 10:01 mark to pare the home team's lead in half.
Lytle, however, smacked home Fairmont Area's third goal of the middle segment by altering Nordquist's wide blast from the left wing just inside the right pipe with 6:18 left in the second.
Hallden, however, whittled Redwood Valley's deficit to 5-4 by scoring a short-handed goal with 5:17 left in regulation before assisting on a second short-handed goal only 37 seconds later.
Hallden made a nifty right-left-right juke move to beat Cunning before sliding a perfect crossing pass to Sandgren for the next goal with 4:40 remaining.
Houle turned away 24 of Fairmont Area's 29 shots on goal, while Cunning prevented Redwood Valley from capitalizing on 7 of 8 power-play opportunities.
Fairmont Area (2-15-1) plays host to Windom Area on Thursday night at Martin County Arena, while Redwood Valley (2-10) entertains Morris/Benson Area on Monday night in Redwood Falls.
Red. Valley 0-2-2-4
Fmt. Area 2-3-0-5
FA - Matt Lytle (Trason Arens), 6:09.
FA - Brock Johnson (Matt Lytle), pp., 4:07.
RV - Chris Hallden (unassisted), 16:20.
FA - Grant Becker (Joe Nordquist, Matt Lytle), 12:38.
FA - Ben Mitchell (unassisted), 11:45.
RV - Zach Blum (Kollin Joines, Logan Sandgren), pp., 10:01.
FA - Matt Lytle (Joe Nordquist), 6:18.
RV - Chris Hallden (unassisted), sh., 5:17.
RV - Logan Sandgren (Chris Hallden), sh., 4:40.
Shots on goal: Redwood Valley 12-17-11-40; Fairmont Area 9-9-11-29.
Saves: Colton Cunning (FA) 12-15-9-36; Jordan Houle (RV) 7-6-11-24.
Penalties: Fairmont Area 8 for 16 minutes; Redwood Valley 4 for 8.
Power-play chances: Redwood Valley 1 for 8; Fairmont Area 1 for 4.