WATERVILLE — A new team meant a new opportunity for Winslow’s Logan Denis.

Like most every high school hockey player in Winslow and Waterville, Denis had questions about what a Waterville-Winslow co-op would mean when the team hit the ice for the first time this season. What he found was a chance to switch positions would actually benefit him.

Denis, a senior, has been converted into a defenseman this season by coach Jon Hart. He had a season-high three-point night Saturday with three assists in a 5-1 win over Messalonskee.

“I think what we’re seeing with him is some confidence,” Hart said of Denis.

Last season, Denis was one of the bright spots on a Winslow team that finished last in Class B North. He logged most of his minutes at forward, only being pressed into action as a defenseman when situations dictated.

“Playing forward my whole life, it’s definitely different for me,” Denis said of the position switch. “Last year, I had to step up and go play defense some because we were shorthanded all the time. I like it. I can see the ice more, and I can see where I want to put the puck. I can shoot as much as I want, or look up and see my wingers on the far sides.”

In two games last week, the RiverHawks allowed only two goals against, helping them solidify the No. 2 spot in the regional standings with six games remaining. Since a 4-0 loss Jan. 2 at B North leader Old Town/Orono, Kennebec has allowed only nine goals in five games (1.8 goals against).

“I feel really comfortable in that role,” Denis said. “Toward the fourth game, I had a talk with (Hart) and he asked me what I think. I said, ‘Let’s try it and see what happens.’ By the fifth or sixth game, I felt really comfortable and thought I can do really well here.”

With an abundance of forwards on the Kennebec roster, a puck-moving defenseman like Denis is a boost. He’s joined Wheeler, Nick West and Hunter Brown in the team’s top pairings — all of whom are capable of moving the puck up ice to begin the transition.

It’s a point of emphasis, Denis said. He also noted that all of his experience as a forward previously has helped shape his defensive game.

“We really try to step it up and hold our blue line,” Denis said. “When (attacking players) get close, we really want to step up and get on them so they can’t get past the blue line. Playing forward my whole life, I know that when you see the defense playing really close to the blue line, you’re going to think, ‘Oh, man. He’s right there.’ If you can keep an eye on the body, you’ll have them.”

• • •

The nine-team North division in girls hockey is divided into three distinct groups.

At the top, Lewiston/Monmouth/Oak Hill, Greely/Gray-New Gloucester and St. Dominic are the top three with a combined record of 34-5-0. Three of those losses have come against one another, the other two to South division-leading Cheverus/Kennebunk.

At the bottom, Yarmouth/Freeport and Mt. Ararat/Morse have won only four games in total (4-23-1), the wins coming either gainst one another or winless Gorham/Bonny Eagle/Massabesic in the South.

In the logjam in the middle, where Winslow/Gardiner (8-6-1) sits at No. 4 with three games remaining, every night is a battle. Black Tigers coach Alan Veilleux said his team hasn’t fallen into the trap of believing games are decided before the puck drops — no matter who the opponent.

“They’re the same team each and every time,” Veilleux said. “We keep them on their toes. They understand that no game is an easy game and the biggest game they have is the one in front of them. They react pretty well to that.”

Before a 7-2 win over Yarmouth/Freeport last Thursday, Winslow/Gardiner had lost three straight. Senior Evelyn Hinkley said it was all the motivation the team needed, even against a struggling Clippers’ squad.

“Our past few games have been against top teams, and we’ve taken a couple of losses,” Hinkley said. “We wanted to come out big and show them what we’re made of, that we’re still in it. We are playing good hockey, but we can definitely improve.”

• • •

The second-half schedule makers didn’t do the Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth boys any favors.

The Rams are currently 6-3-1 and the No. 4 seed in Class A North. Unfortunately for the Rams, the next seven-game stretch they face will be the toughest of the season. Five of their final seven regular-season games are against the top three teams in the region.

Cony still has to play undefeated No.1 and two-time defending state champion Lewiston once, and No. 2 Edward Little and No. 3 Bangor twice. The stretch run to the postseason should tell a lot about Cony’s ability to go deep into the regional tournament.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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