WATERVILLE — They didn’t learn a new forecheck, defensive system or special teams philosophy. They didn’t learn anything on a dry erase board in the dressing room during an intermission or anything about which line combinations to go with for the playoffs.

What the Kennebec RiverHawks learned during a stretch run maligned by injuries, suspensions and penalties was much simpler.

“We learned that Waterville and Winslow can play with each other,” senior center Cody Pellerin said this week after practice at Colby College’s Alfond Rink. “That’s what I learned throughout the whole season, especially over the last four games.”

The first-year Waterville/Winslow hockey co-op enters its inaugural playoff season as the No. 2 seed in Class B North, and it will meet No. 3 Presque Isle at Alfond in a regional semifinal Saturday at 5 p.m. The winner will meet either No. 1 Old Town/Orono or No. 4 Hampden Academy in the finals next week.

“We’re hungry to play,” senior defenseman Nick West said. “We haven’t played (since Feb. 17) and we just want to get back out there and win a hockey game.”

Though Kennebec (11-7-0) won six of its final eight games of the regular season to keep its hold on a bye through the quarterfinal round, there hasn’t been much in the way of constants for the RiverHawks. They closed the campaign with a pair of tightly-contested 2-1 wins over playoff-bound teams, but those came after two consecutive games that saw Kennebec and its opposition combine for 18 goals.

Six of the team’s 18 games produced four or fewer total goals, with the RiverHawks posting a 4-2-0 mark in those contests. Six other games saw the two teams combine for nine or more goals. Kennebec went an even 3-3-0 in those.

Which team is the one the RiverHawks want to be — the one playing tight-checking, responsible hockey with limited scoring chances for either side, or the one going end-to-end in shootouts?

“I like seeing the team that puts the puck in the net, but we’re dealing with a really competitive league,” Kennebec coach Jon Hart said. “It almost seems like every game we’ve played, no matter what the score is, it’s always a battle. … I like a combination of both, but I’ll be honest, I like the team that plays 2-1 games the most, because goals will come eventually but defense is a constant.”

Hart might favor the games where goals are harder to come by, but that’s not necessarily the case for the players themselves. High-energy hockey, free-flowing with scoring chances and physical play, is where the players on the ice feel most engaged.

“I’m more comfortable with the back-and-forth games, the 5-4, 6-5 games,” West said. “Either way, as long as we’re coming out on top, I don’t care how the game goes. I really, truly believe we’re playing our best hockey right now. We’re getting goals from guys who maybe haven’t scored a lot in the past.”

Final scores aside, the last four games provided the RiverHawks with significant on-ice — and off-ice — tests. In a 2-1 win over Houlton/Hodgdon, Kennebec had stretches with only seven players available on the bench whether it was because of injuries, team suspensions or penalties.

“We dealt with some big adversity,” Hart said.

During the regular season, Kennebec and Presque Isle met only once, with the Wildcats scoring a 6-2 decision on the road in mid-December. It was only the third game of the season for each team.

While Winslow missed out on the playoffs entirely the last two seasons, Waterville won each of the last two Class B state championships. Though this co-op team doesn’t have the same ability to produce instant offense the way Waterville did last season, the lessons the former Purple Panthers learned about playoff hockey still apply.

“It’s going to be like all the other playoffs that we had,” said Pellerin, who played on the two Waterville state championship teams. “It’s going to be a hard game, it’s going to be a close game, and they’re going to hit. It’s most likely going to be a one-goal game. That’s not going to change.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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