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Cardinals boys hockey to face Bulldogs in season-opener

SET FOR FACEOFF — Members of the Fairmont Area Cardinals boys hockey team opening the season by playing host to the Minnesota River Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Martin County Arena in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Tyson Pankow, Jace Prindle, Beau Becker, Luke Kester, Kaiden Musser, Carson Johnson, Hartley Aust, Jace Teveldal, Brock Lutterman and Barret Scholl. Back row: Manager Jack Kosbab, Eli Winter, Lincoln Becker, Matthew Steuber, Nate Rakness, assistant coach David Cone, head coach Dylan Van Brocklin, assistant coach Bart Musser, Lucas Sommers, Eric Determan, Mathew Cone and Connor Gronewald. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Fairmont Area’s boys hockey program made significant improvements during Dylan VanBrocklin’s third season at the Cardinals’ helm in 2021-22.

The Cardinals produced a nine-game increase in the win column and netted a 5-2 victory over Minnesota River — Le Sueur-Henderson combined with St. Peter — during their Section 3A playoff opener last winter.

Now, VanBrocklin enters his fourth high school hockey season with hopes of building a solid foundation for a program that’s experienced a roller coaster ride during his time on the ice in Fairmont.

VanBrocklin inherited a 1-21 team from the 2018-19 campaign before guiding the Cardinals to a 6-20 mark, including a 4-1 postseason win over Willmar, behind grade-school phenom Carsen Musser’s goaltending skills during his head coaching debut.

Unfortunately for Fairmont Area, Musser exited for elite-level developmental training en route to playing between the pipes for the U.S. National Under-17 team last season.

After a winless 2020-21 campaign, the Cardinals bounced back to compile a 9-17 overall record and 6-10 mark in the Big South Conference last winter.

“Unfortunately, we’ll only have had a handful of full practices before our season-opener,” VanBrocklin said in reference to Fairmont Area’s 7 p.m. game against Minnesota River on Tuesday night at Martin County Arena in Fairmont. “With only nine, 10 varsity players at practice during the first couple of weeks, it’s hard to figure out lines and which players mesh with who.”

Due to the Minnesota State High School League’s overlap between the state football playoffs and the start of the hockey regular season, VanBrocklin was missing five student-athletes still competing on the gridiron.

On a positive note, the Cardinals return a sturdy netminder in junior Carson Johnson, and get back two of the top five point producers — senior wing Brock Lutterman and senior center Nate Rakness — from a season ago.

“We have only one goalie in Carson, but he’s got a year of varsity experience under his belt now,” said VanBrocklin. “He made a major jump from the bantam level to high school, and made a good transition.

“With Bart (Musser) on our staff this season, helping him keep his stick on the ice and with his positioning, he (Johnson) should be ahead of where he finished last year.”

Johnson generated 614 saves for a respectable .824 clip en route to an 8-14 record during his varsity debut season.

Offensively, Lutterman hits the ice after scoring a second-best 32 points on the strength of 18 goals (No. 2 on the Cardinals) and 14 assists (No. 3), while Rakness tallied the fifth-most points (24) by netting the third-best goal total (14) to complement 10 assists.

“We’ll need another big year from a points perspective from both Brock and Nate this season,” said VanBrocklin. “We’ll look for those two to score goals every game out.”

Junior Mathew Cone will be back on the blue line after distributing seven assists to fuel his nine-point effort last season, while senior Hartley Aust returns to a forward spot after scoring eight points on the strength of five assists.

Junior Jace Teveldal and senior Lincoln Becker also lace up the skates after collecting seven and six points, respectively, in 2021-22.

Junior Lucas Sommers will be a newcomer in a Cardinal jersey after his family moved to the area from Wisconsin. Sommers scored six goals and two assists in 19 games for Regis/Altoona/McDonnell’s varsity program last winter.

“Lucas will play wing on our first or second line, from what I can tell right now,” said VanBrocklin.

Senior Kaiden Musser returns to hockey after a hiatus from the sport, and could join the blue-liners in Connor Gronewald, Beau Becker, Cone and Lincoln Becker.

“Hopefully, our defense will give us a strong start and allow our offense to develop as the season progresses,” said VanBrocklin.

Matthew Steuber, Luke Kester, Tyler Kurt, Eric Determan, Barret Scholl, Tyson Pankow, Jace Prindle and Eli Winter all will figure into the playing combinations throughout the upcoming campaign.

“One of our goals is to get better every day, but we also have to create a new mentality of ‘team first,’ and that’ll take some time,” said VanBrocklin.

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