KENTS HILL — Chris Downing knew what to say. Julia Hinkley knew what to do.

After giving up a late three-goal lead and seeing a certain victory slip away, that was just the combination the Winslow/Gardiner girls hockey team needed.

The freshman Hinkley scored her third goal of the game less than a minute into overtime, giving the Black Tigers a 5-4 win over Brunswick despite the efforts of the Dragons’ Jenna Brooks, whose four goals made what was on its way to being an easy win anything but.

“We never gave up. Even though they came back, the girls stayed with it,” said Downing, the Winslow/Gardiner coach whose team improved to 2-2-0 in its first season as a co-op team. “I’m very proud of them. … They never quit. These are the types of games that are going to make a season.”

Chances for late-game drama seemed to vanish when Hinkley tallied a pair of third-period goals to give the Black Tigers a 4-1 lead with under six minutes to go.

Instead, with Brunswick growing desperate in the closing minutes, Brooks, the strongest skater on either side, took over. She swept down the right side and poked the puck past goalie Cassandra Demers on a power play with three minutes left, played the puck around a defender and raced down the right side for another goal with 1:22 to play, then scooped up a loose puck in the defensive zone and outskated the W/G defense for the tying score with 55 seconds to go.

“She’s extremely competitive and highly-skilled,” Brunswick coach Dave Boucher said. “She’s a determined player, and a team player too.”

From the sideline, Downing could see the mistakes his team made to give up the lead. But as the players gathered before the start of overtime, he knew the message to convey to help them get it back.

“What I said to them basically was you can’t change what happened,” he said. “You can only go forward. You get the first goal in the first 30 to 40 seconds, game over.”

It took 55 seconds, but the Black Tigers got the point. Hinkley took a puck freed up by teammate Sarah Morgan’s contact with the Brunswick player, carried it into the attacking zone and got into the slot. Her quick shot skidded between goalie Marylyn Daniel’s pads, allowing Winslow/Gardiner to begin its delayed celebration.

“When Sarah held back that girl, I saw that puck and I went for it,” Hinkley said. “It feels really good inside, to get that for the team.”

Downing said the hat trick showcased what Hinkley, a freshman defenseman, can do for the offense.

“(She) knows when to take the puck up ice,” he said. “And when she does, she’s got a nose for the net. And she can shoot it.”

Brunswick took a 1-0 lead with 7:57 left in the second when Brooks took the puck along the defensive blue line, raced down the left side, cut into the slot and beat Demers with a hard wrist shot. The lead lasted 13 seconds, as the Black Tigers got a power play and scored just after the faceoff when Hinkley slid a pass over to fellow blueliner Morgan for the goal from behind the circle.

W/G seemed to take command in the third. Anna Chadwick scored after poking the puck away from a Brunswick player 17 seconds into the period and Hinkley stretched the advantage, first moving from the slot to the right circle and scoring on a wrister with 9:18 to play, then skating through the left circle and roofing a backhand with 5:50 left.

That made it 4-1, but thanks to Brooks and Hinkley, the drama was just beginning.

“They had a good battle going,” Boucher said. “They’re both very tired, I’m sure.”

The win was a big one for a program undergoing a transition. The team went 3-15-0 as an independent Winslow team last year, then faced the challenge of building team chemistry after adding Gardiner to the mix.

It’s still early, Downing stressed. But a .500 record and a gut-check win offer signs that the move is working.

“We turned it around,” Downing said. “We look at last year, and they beat us by some pretty tough scores last year. To get this win, yeah, I think we can put ourselves in contention and look for a playoff spot.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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