WATERVILLE — A new Watervile-Winslow boys hockey co-operative program is inching closer to fruition, although some proverbial hurdles remain.

The Waterville school board will meet June 14 to continue discussions about a merger between the rival programs. The Winslow school board has already voted to proceed with the co-op team.

“We approved it,” Winslow athletic director Jim Bourgoin said. “We had no opposition at all.”

The possibility of a co-op between the two programs surfaced in the winter. While Waterville captured its second consecutive Class B state championship last month, its roster featured 17 players, including eight seniors. Winslow finished last in a 10-team Class B North region with only 13 players on its roster.

Two primary concerns were raised at a Waterville school board meeting April 5. First, people wanted to know the minimum number of players a program needs to field a competitive team. Secondly, others asked about available ice time in the area.

With Sukee Arena abruptly closing its doors last fall, Winslow in particular was left scrambling for sufficient available ice for practices between games. Waterville has been locked into a longstanding agreement with Colby College’s Alfond Rink.

“One (question) was whether we could get an accurate count of how many youth hockey players we have that might be coming up to the high school next year,” Waterville school board member Joan Phillips-Sandy said. “Another question was how having a cooperative team would affect Waterville’s ability to have ice time at Colby.”

Waterville athletic director Heidi Bernier said she has received assurances from Colby that a co-op would not jeopardize ice time availability.

“I have been assured by Colby that if we co-op with Winslow it will not affect our relationship with the college and, hence, will not jeopardize our use of the ice arena,” she said.

The Black Raiders did not have a senior on their roster. Bourgoin said that joining Waterville would ensure the program would have more available practice time.

He also said that Winslow is not looking to join into a co-op agreement with any other school.

“We’d stay on our own,” Bourgoin said. “We have no interest in forming a co-op with anybody else. The biggest thing is the ice time, and that would be a hardship. We struggled with numbers this year, but we return everybody and have three freshmen coming up.”

While roster numbers play a significant role, Waterville head coach Dennis Martin said prior to his team’s state championship game in March against York that it’s extremely difficult to pin down a definitive number. He said that you would want “at least 12 players,” but that number can vary based on the experience and ability levels.

“We want to ensure we can safely put an ice hockey team out on the ice next year and the years to come,” Bernier said. “Student-athlete safety is the No. 1 priority.”

Martin, who played for Waterville in the early 1990s, also added that he was hopeful the school could hold onto its hockey tradition while also understanding the situation.

“I want to stay just ‘Waterville,'” Martin said in March. “But we’re looking into things, I know that. Yes, it could be a possibility, but we don’t know what the numbers are going to be.”

Waterville and Winslow have proud hockey traditions.

Waterville has won 22 state championships, including the state’s first hockey title dating to 1927. Twenty of those championships came in Class A, with the last two coming consecutively in Class B in 2016 and 2017.

Winslow, too, has had more than its share of hockey success. The Black Raiders, who last won a state title in 2008, have won 11 Class B championships — the most of any school in state history.

Waterville is in the unprecedented position of having won a state championship while facing an unclear future. Every state champion in either Class A or B since 2005 — 13 schools in all — still field independent, stand-alone boys hockey teams.

Should the boys programs merge, it would mark the second hockey co-op for Winslow in as many years.

Winslow participated in a successful girls hockey co-op with Gardiner for the first time this winter.

“Our parents understand it’s probably best for us,” Bourgoin said. “Without Sukee, we’re only guaranteed to get two hours a week at Colby for practice. (Waterville) is locked in there five days a week. We had three parents speak up in favor of it, and that was it.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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