Fairmont Area boys hockey ready for icy opener

CHECKING IN — Members of the Fairmont Area Cardinals boys hockey team set to open the season at Luverne on Tuesday night include, front row (l-r): Student managers Lindsey Tonne, Crystal Morton and Emily Lubenow. 2nd row: Colby Kuhl, Sam Mensing, assistant coach Roger Claeys, head coach Kris Olson, assistant coach Jayden Huset, Matt Kotewa and Tyson Geerdes. 3rd row: Tony Nuss, Riley Chaffee, Tanner DeWar, Dylan Hady, Avory Vlieger, Karson Legred, Carson Kuhl, Joesef Olson and Bobby Karp. 4th row: Mason Kotewa, Hudson Artz, Tom Havnen, Evan Carlson, Jacob Mitchell, Logan Zimprich, Carter Olson and student manager Levi Buhmann. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

FAIRMONT — Prior to the Fairmont Area Cardinals boys hockey game at Luverne on Tuesday, head coach Kris Olson has a decision to make. Who should start in goal: Colby Kuhl or Tyson Geerdes?

“The position is a week-by-week or game-by-game basis. It’s whoever is performing the best at the time, so it’s performance-based,” Olson said. “If I’ve got one of them that’s playing hot at the moment, then I’ll go with him.”

Both saw playing time last season for the Cardinals, which went 5-19 on the season. With Kuhl being a senior, a co-captain and having more experience, Olson said he’ll be hard to beat out, but Geerdes still has an upside that makes him a strong contender.

“Don’t get me wrong: Tyson has his high points, too, and has his moments where he can really come on. He’ll give Colby a run for his money,” Olson said about the sophomore. “That’s why it’s nice having two goalies because then you can have that competition in practice, and it’s always a competitive atmosphere between the two of them.”

Meanwhile, the goalies’ surrounding cast has grown in the offseason with the addition of 10 sophomores, including Colby’s brother Carsen, and eighth-grader Hudson Artz. Both are listed as forwards for the Cardinals.

“Carsen is finding himself in a key position in the lineup already,” Olson said. “Hudson Artz was another one that joined the squad this year. He’s fun to watch and he’ll be a fun one to watch him going through his career.”

The Cardinals also still have key returning players in senior Tom Havnen and junior Tanner DeWar. Unfortunately for the team, DeWar won’t be available to play until mid-December at the latest. The junior forward had surgery on his shoulder during the summer after a lingering injury from last season.

As a result, Olson and Co. are depending on Havnen, Sam Mensing and the other seniors to step up and help.

“Defensively, we’ve got to have some guys step up to the plate like Jacob Mitchell and Matt Kotewa,” the third-year head coach said. “It’s a senior group of five and they all carry key components to our game plan.”

This will especially be important right out of the gate against a tough Luverne team. Last year, the Luverne Cardinals outscored the Fairmont Area Cardinals, 25-2, for the season’s series sweep.

The level of competition the Cardinals face fluctuates from more difficult teams like Luverne, Marshall and Waseca to teams that the Cardinals have historically been able to beat like Worthington and Morris/Benson Area. Having the mix actually works in the Cardinals’ favor, according to Olson.

“I think that’s going to help us in the long run just from the fact that those higher-caliber teams can keep us on our toes. It’ll hopefully elevate our game going into maybe those more winnable games this season,” he said.

After losing assistant coach Clint Forstrom due to relocating for a job last season, Olson has added Jayden Huset to the coaching staff in addition to returning assistant coach Roger Claeys. Ironically, Huset played for Olson’s PeeWee championship team during the 2006-07 hockey season.

“I coached him on that team and apparently, he had a good experience with me, so he’s back in town and wanted to come out and help,” Olson said. “While we were watching the dryland (workouts), he was on the other side of it where you can actually be the one telling kids how to do it versus being the one that’s being told to do it.

“It’s a little different for him, but it should be fun.”

After its season opener at Luverne on Tuesday, Fairmont Area will be home against Windom Area on Thursday and St. Peter/Le Sueur-Henderson on Dec. 5.