The 5 a.m. practices. The commitment to a rigorous game schedule. The first regular season title in more than two decades.

For the Gardiner Area High School hockey team, an upset loss in the regional semifinals did little to dampen what was a tremendous season. For that reason, Gardiner’s Sam Moore has been selected as the Kennebec Journal Hockey Coach of the Year.

Cony’s Chad Foye and Winslow/Gardiner girls coach Chris Downing were also considered.

“I thought sky was the limit for them,” Moore said of the Tigers. “We ran into a really hot Greely team (in the playoffs) that did us in, and they totally deserved to win that game. For the most part, all season, everyone on the team gave me everything that they had.”

Gardiner finished the regular season with a 13-5-0 record and the top spot in the Class B South standings. Gardiner was led by a formidable, sizable two-line attack that also featured a solid group of defensemen and one of the region’s best players in senior goaltender Michael Poirier.

The Tigers went a combined 6-2-0 against the five other teams that went to the playoffs, and added eventual state champion Waterville, Class A rival Cony and Class A regional finalist Bangor to as tough a schedule as there was in Class B. Moore made it a point for Gardiner to be battle-tested — and 10 of their 18 games were decided by two goals or less.

“I felt all along that they had the potential, but it was a matter of how they took things and if they showed up for every game and didn’t get overconfident,” Moore said.

Two games best exemplified Gardiner this season: A gutsy mid-January loss to Waterville, which hadn’t been tested to that point in the year, and a 2-1 win over Cony just two days after blowing a third-period lead in a loss to Greely. Both games illustrated the resolve the coach had built in his troops.

Moore did his best to make sure the focus stayed in the moment and not on games down the road or a playoff run. In fact, despite the results, he’s a coach that keeps the process in mind more than the wins and losses.

It showed on a team that had balance and overcame obstacles — including its own inability to stay out of the penalty box early in the season.

“I didn’t want them to read papers or look online at what other teams were doing. I just wanted them to go out and worry about what you can do as an individual to help the team,” Moore said. “I asked them to treat teammates the way they wanted to be treated. If someone made a mistake, you pick them up, you don’t criticize them. That’s the way I taught kids in youth hockey. Just play your game, and when you get off the ice, if you know you did everything you could to help, then you could feel good about things whether you won or lost.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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