Gardiner’s next six hockey games are against Gorham, Old Town/Orono, Hampden, Yarmouth, Greely and Presque Isle. These aren’t like a rivalry game against Cony, or even a familiar opponent from other sports like Maranacook. How, then, do the Gardiner players get excited to take on teams they know little to nothing about?

“We have no problems getting up for games like that,” Gardiner coach Jeff Ross said. “When you’ve missed the playoffs as many years in a row as we have lately, we’re trying to build wins. Getting back into the playoffs, and understanding that each win puts us closer to that goal — it’s no problem getting up for those games.”

The Tigers’ 3-2-0 record puts them sixth in Western B, where the top seven teams make the playoffs. Gardiner is coming off an emotional 3-2 overtime win over Leavitt on Saturday.

“It was a good game, actually,” Ross said. “I thought we were very sloppy and slow in the first period. I thought we came out in the second period really playing well. We ran the system, we worked hard and the kids really played well.”

Gardiner had to kill off a 5-on-3 penalty near the end of regulation to force overtime, and was also short-handed for part of the extra period. The winning goal was set up when freshman Cam Bigelow won a fight for a loose puck.

“Cam Bigelow — my little guy — out-jumped and out-battled a bigger guy,” Ross said.

Bigelow got the puck to Sarah Morgan, who put a shot on net. Tristan Hebert was there to put in the rebound for his third goal of the game.

“It was a nice win for us, with a team this young,” Ross said.

With no seniors on the roster, Ross said the Tigers spend practices working on more basic things like skating and structure. But he’s pleased with the continued development of the team overall.

“We keep telling the kids: If we’re this good at the end of the year, that’s not good enough,” Ross said. “And I think they understand that.”

•••

The Kents Hill boys have prospered since an early-season 10-1 loss to Exeter Academy, which first-year coach Doug Friedman attributed partly to some growing pains with his new system. The Huskies now sit at 5-4-0 overall and 3-3 in the New Prep School Ice Hockey Association.

“Since then, the guys have really turned the corner, and been on the upswing with our performance,” Friedman said. “The guys have really started to embrace the team, but also the system that we’re playing.”

At the recent Barber tournament in Boston, the Huskies beat both Governors Academy and Middlesex, a pair of Massachusetts schools. Kents Hill is back in Massachusetts this weekend in a tournament hosted by Tabor Academy of Marion, Mass. The Huskies will also get in a practice on Boston University’s home ice. Friedman played four seasons at Boston University, and also played 18 games in the NHL over two stints with the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators.

The Huskies are making a point about being a team — the players put the word “family” on their warm-up shirts and Friedman liked that the Tabor tournament will give the players more time to talk and bond — but they also have some standout individuals. Junior wing Matt Henderson of Scarborough and out-of-stater Conor Cassidy have both been making better use lately of their considerable speed, Friedman said. On defense, Joel Pottruff and Danik Roy give Kents Hill two steady blue-liners.

•••

The last two games for the Winslow boys hockey team were a home game at Sukee Arena and a short drive over the bridge to play Waterville at Colby College. The Black Raiders face the other side Tuesday when they travel to Northern Maine Arena to play Presque Isle — a 430-mile drive round-trip.

Winslow coach Andy Dube said the Raiders will leave the school at 7 a.m. for their 1 p.m. game. Dube plans to have the bus stop off in Houlton, so the players can get something to eat and stretch their legs by walking around.

Presque Isle is 1-3-1 this season, but recently tied Brewer at home. Brewer defeated Winslow, 4-2, earlier this month.

“(Presque Isle’s) always tough at home,” Dube said. “It’s always hard to play on a long road trip, so I’m expecting a tough game.”

The Black Raiders will also be down a player, as Jacob Grenier will have to sit out after being ejected from Friday’s game against Waterville. Grenier was previously ejected from an exhibition game against Edward Little. That means Grenier has to sit out two regular season games, so he will also miss Saturday’s game against Houlton/Hodgdon. If Grenier is ejected from another game this winter, he will be disqualified for the rest of the season by Maine Principals’ Association rules.

“It’ll be a tough hole to fill,” Dube said. “It’s very critical for us that we don’t lose him.”

Grenier has been playing on a tough line with Jimmy Fowler and big scorer Jacob Trask. Dube credits Fowler as someone who “does the little things” on the ice.

“Jimmy Fowler is a quiet player for us,” Dube said. “He sets up a lot of things. Defensively, he’s sound in either zone. Good forechecking (and) nice passes.”

Winslow is 4-2-0 and fourth in the Eastern B standings, but the Raiders are less than 1.1 points out of the No. 2 spot. Messalonskee, Waterville and Brewer are the top three seeds right now, and they all play each other by Jan. 17.

“I can see John Bapst, Brewer, Waterville and Winslow all right there shooting for second place — or even possibly first. You never know,” Dube said. “If Presque Isle can build some momentum, they could be right there in the mix as well.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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