For the first time in four years, when the girls ice hockey playoffs begin Wednesday night, players from Winslow High School will be involved.

After winning just four games combined over the previous two seasons, Winslow joined forces with Gardiner Area High School this season, and the newly-formed No. 4 Black Tigers will host No. 5 Brunswick in a North region quarterfinal at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault at 6:10 p.m.

The winner will advance to play unbeaten No. 1 St. Dominic Academy (18-0-0) this weekend.

The Black Tigers and Dragons met twice during the regular season, with Winslow/Gardiner (10-8-0) winning 5-4 in overtime in December and then scoring in the final 30 seconds to earn a 4-3 victory over Brunswick (8-10-0) a month later.

“I was just telling my wife how ironic it is that we’re playing Brunswick,” Winslow/Gardiner coach Chris Downing said. “It will be a one-goal game, either way. That’s how it always is with them.”

The Black Tigers have come a long way since a 7-0 season-opening loss to Edward Little. On Monday, in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship game, the Black Tigers skated to a 3-3 tie with those same Red Eddies in a game decided in a shootout following a scoreless overtime period.

Freshman Evelyn Hinkley leads Winslow/Gardiner in scoring and centers the top line between Gabby Hebert and Anna Chadwick. The emergence of the team’s second line ā€” Kate Larson between Sarah Stevens and Julia Nadeau ā€” provided secondary scoring and helped the team find more balance as the season wore on.

“Since halfway through the year, that’s really been a consistent line for us,” Downing said. “It’s a group that can go out and score one or two goals a game.”

Sarah Morgan and Julia Hinkley comprise the top defensive pairing for Winslow/Gardiner, with Morgan having dropped back from the forward group early in the season. Katie Bailey and Bailey Robbins are the second pairing.

Team defense will be critical against Brunswick. The Dragons feature Jenna Brooks, one of the state’s most prolific scorers who accounted for all four Brunswick goals in Winslow/Gardiner’s overtime win on Dec. 7.

“(Brooks) is capable of scoring as many goals as she wants,” Downing said. “Knowing where she is on the ice is key, and we have to then play good team defense. That’s what we stress. We stress the team game.”

For a team that went 3-15-0 last season and just 1-16-1 the year before that, no one could have predicted a 10-win season and a playoff game at home for Winslow/Gardiner. Downing remembered sitting down in the preseason and not even venturing a prediction for a group that had only a couple of summer skates together prior to November practices beginning.

“They’ve got a never-quit attitude,” Downing said. “You can’t ask for more. It’s a great bunch of girls that support each other, and that support has carried us. We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year, but whenever you’re put up against adversity in sports, it makes you a better team.”

On the other side of the North bracket, No. 3 Edward Little (13-4-1) hosts No. 6 Yarmouth/Freeport (7-11-0). The winner advances to play No. 2 Greely (16-2-0).

Falmouth (14-4-0) and Scarborough (13-4-1) earned the top two seeds in the South region.

Travis Barrett ā€” 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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