KENTS HILL — The chance to play prep school hockey, so close to home, made the decision to attend Kents Hill School an easy one for Cam Wilson and Jackson Aldrich. Why more central Maine players don’t take advantage of a similar opportunity is a bit more complicated.

“Any prep school in Maine would say that you want to have some local flavor. It’s great to have,” Kents Hill hockey coach and athletic director Doug Friedman said. “But there’s more than that that goes into it — there’s academics, there’s tuition at the schools. Do they want to go to prep school? A lot of kids love their high schools, which is great, and it’s a different experience there than it is here. So, yeah, there’s a lot of things that go into it.”

Cam Wilson, of Augusta, was the leading scorer for Cony High School as a senior last season, and the Rams went all the way to the Class A North semifinals. Wilson, who was chosen as the Kennebec Journal Player of the Year, kept an eye on Kents Hill throughout his career at Cony.

He hasn’t regretted the singular focus for a second.

“As far as hockey goes, it’s kind of what I expected it to be. I’m pretty happy with exactly how it’s going so far,” Wilson said following practice Tuesday afternoon at the school’s Bonnefond Ice Arena. “In the public high school league, you didn’t have to worry about playing both ends so fast. That’s just the reality of it. Everyone’s good here, there’s no bad players.”

Aldrich helped lead Waterville Senior High School to its second consecutive state championship as a senior last winter. He led all of Maine in scoring with 70 points in 18 regular-season games, leading the state in assists and finishing second in goals scored (29).

The jump from Class B to prep hockey was noticeable from day one, but it was just the leap Aldrich was eager to make.

“I never really had any interest in going to play juniors the year after high school, because the high school league we played in I feel wouldn’t have prepared me to go play a high level of juniors,” Aldrich said. “(Kents Hill) was one of my best options, and it was close to home.

“My ultimate goal is to play college hockey. I want to go play a high level of juniors after this and then, hopefully, find a college team.”

Aldrich and Wilson represent an influx of sorts of Maine players to the Kents Hill program this season. The Huskies feature Hampden Academy graduate Marc Thibodeau and former St. Dom’s standout Gavin Bates among central Maine players on their roster. Zach Menoudarakos, who was a freshman at Waterville last season, is on the junior varsity team.

Several Kents Hill residents, including Friedman’s sons Jaxon and Grady, are also locals playing for the Huskies.

“We’ve got a large group of Maine kids, which is great,” Friedman said. “It speaks to the local high schools and the youth programs like the Maine Moose where the guys have played. It’s great for us, because it’s close to home. It’s the best of both worlds — they get to be close to home and get the boarding school experience.”

Wilson believes Kents Hill should be a viable option for hockey players locally looking to increase their level of play and their exposure to colleges, but he also understands why some might be hesitant.

Certainly, tuition costs have to be weighed along with the education and hockey side of things.

“It wasn’t in the cards for my family (when I was in high school),” Wilson said of attending Kents Hill. “As far as local guys go, as a freshman and sophomore, you really buy into your high school being the best option there is at the time. That’s certainly how the coaches portray it to you, and that may be true if you’re at a good school. But I think this is a great place for hockey players, expecially if you want to move on to a higher level.”

While Wilson is a day student, commuting from his Augusta home, Aldrich is a boarding student. He said he tries to get home on weekends when his schedule is free.

Where Wilson has always been a high-level student, Aldrich has been adjusting to academic life at Kents Hill, along with the hockey life.

“This school just bleeds academia,” Aldrich said. “It’s different for me. It’s not that I don’t care about academics, it’s just that I’m not the type of person who can sit down for three or four hours and just do work every single night. I do the best that I can, but it’s a big adjustment.”

Friedman acknowledged, too, that it can be a challenge for players to adjust to the education side of it. As a hockey coach, he’s trying to develop them on the ice, too.

Most of the local kids who come to Kents Hill for post-graduate years are ahead of the curve, he said.

“We want to win some games, but we want it to be a positive learning experience for these guys, where they leave here better hockey players than when they came — and better people,” Friedman said. “That’s the easy part. The local guys that we have, they’re already great kids.

“We want to develop them on the hockey side. They get extra academic work here… And then there’s the exposure piece, too. They should get a little more exposure here than they’ve previous gotten in hopes of college or junior hockey as a potential road to college.”

So while players like Aldrich and Wilson pursue those goals, they’re also pursuing more immediate goals — hockey goals — against rigorous competition, even in practice.

“You kind of have to find your role,” Aldrich said. “Whatever you do for the team to benefit them, that’s what you have to do best. Now, every single kid is playing at the same level you played with on your midget team. The kids are really skilled, good, talented players. They’re all just as good or better than me or any kid who played for the (Maine Moose).

“It was fun coming here and seeing what it was going to be like, because I really enjoy playing with kids that are at a higher level than me. It will just make me better.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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