FAIRMONT - A goaltender in hockey bears a lot of weight on their shoulders, and it isn't just their added padding.
Even if an offensively-charged hockey team scores eight goals in a game, its is only as good as the player playing between the pipes.
This season, the Fairmont Area Cardinals boys hockey team is feeling excited about its chances with junior netminder Colton Cunning backing them in the crease.
HITTING THE?ICE — Members of the Fairmont Area Cardinal boys hockey team opening the season by facing St. Peter/Le Sueur-Henderson at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in Le Sueur include, front row (l-r): Caleb Johnson, Reilly Hoefker, manager Lexi Johnson, manager Colton Wills, manager Brittany Lowe, Chris Fausch and Avery Mahlman. Middle row: Sam Havnen, Ben Mitchell, Trason Arens, Brock Johnson, Colton Cunning, Greg Claeys, Josh Abel, Josh Wills and Matt Lytle. Back row: Hunter Jorgenson, Rodney Engstrom, assistant coach Clint Forstrom, assistant coach Joel Meyer, head coach Brady Meyer, Ethan Lubenow, Joe Nordquist and Logan Vonfeldt. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"Colton is really going to be the backbone of our team this season," said Fairmont Area head coach Brady Meyer. "It is a heavy load to carry, but I know that he can do it this season because he did in large part last year."
Cunning is the lone goalie on the Cardinal roster for the 2013-14 season, and is looking to improve upon his individual numbers from last year.
As a sophomore, Cunning blocked 664 of the 795 shots that he faced, generating an impressive .835 save percentage on the season.
"As a coach, I don't like his numbers from last year. He did a great job, but he should not have had to see that many shots," said Meyer. "That is something that we are definitely working on as a team this season."
The Cardinals are starting that work with their blue line, using senior Greg Claeys and junior Rodney Engstrom to help sophomore defensemen Caleb Johnson and Hunter Jorgenson get ready for game action.
"We partnered each of the older guys up with the a younger player to help them out," said Meyer. "So far it has worked well. The older players are helping them with learning the schemes and helping them work on break-outs."
As for the Fairmont Area offense, after losing their top scorer, Grant Becker, to graduation last year, the Cardinals will be looking at new faces to find a way to score.
Senior Brock Johnson, who scored eight goals last season, and Matt Lytle, who lit the lamp five times in addition to five assists, will be relied on to provide a lot of the offense.
"We have a lot of returning guys from last year's team, and a lot of them played in the offseason," said Meyer. "Even the younger players took some time to play this summer. And I think that should really help us."
In addition to Lytle and Brock Johnson, Trason Arens and Joe Nordquist will provide added depth to the Cardinals' front lines.
"We are looking to Brock and Trason to be good senior leaders for us this year," said Meyer. "They both have a lot of experience, and for Trason he's moving back to his traditional spot of forward. So we're hoping he can score a lot for us this season."
The Cardinals know that this season, like most, won't be an easy one, but are hoping to improve upon their results from last season.
"We have some really hard workers on our team this season," said Meyer. "They can really get down to work on the ice and they are focused on getting better each time that they step on the ice."
For almost the entire first month of the Cardinals' schedule, they will be stepping out onto their opponents' ice, starting with a South Central Conference game against St. Peter/Le Sueur/Henderson at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Le Sueur.
From there, the Cardinals will continue to travel until they have their home opener against Windom at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at Martin County Arena.
"For almost the month, we are on the road, which will be tough, but then we are home for most of January," said Meyer. "We are hoping that we can place better in the conference and even though we'll start on the road, if we can keep getting better each day I think we can."