HALLOWELL — It took 23 years, but Shawn Johnson finally felt the time was right.

After serving as an assistant to several different coaches over more than two decades with the program, Johnson was at the helm of the Cony hockey team as its head coach when practices opened for the 2018-19 season Monday afternoon at Camden National Bank Ice Vault.

Johnson, who is a guidance counselor at Cony High School, oversaw more than two dozen players as the Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth co-op went through their first paces of the new campaign.

“There’s a newness to it,” Johnson said. “Like I told the kids, it’s kind of a new era in some ways but yet it’s an old one, too. It’s always been me as an assistant, and now I’m the head coach.”

Johnson isn’t the only new face behind the bench of one of central Maine’s cornerstone hockey programs. Rival Gardiner Area High School also has a new head coach this season in Tyler Wing.

Wing played at Gardiner, graduating in 2007.

“I’ve always had a pretty strong calling to want to coach kids, at the youth level or in high school,” Wing said. “It felt like a good fit going back to my original school where I played hockey and kind of giving back to that community.”

Cony hockey players work through some passing drills during the first day of practice Monday in Hallowell

Wing, like Johnson, was also an assistant coach with his program before inheriting the head job. Wing worked under Sam Moore for three seasons, helping the Tigers to the Class B South regular season title two years ago.

Johnson and Wing plan on using what they learned from their former head coaches.

“Accountability is one big thing I learned from Sam,” Wing said. “Every kid has to be accountable for his actions. On top of that, it’s fundamentals. (Moore) taught those and made sure the kids were fundamentally sound every practice before he did anything.”

Johnson played at Cony in the 1980s when Jim Tortorella was the team’s head coach. He’s worked as an assistant under three different coaches over four stints, including runs with Tony Laplante, Bruce Dostie and most recently, Chad Foye.

Foye vacated the position when he accepted the athletic director job at Messalonskee High School last spring.

“It was never a burning desire (to be head coach) with me. I was happy with my position. Each of those guys, I thought, were amazing coaches,” Johnson said. “I saw that there were some good kids coming in and good kids coming back, and I asked myself, ‘Am I ready to totally get done?’ … I wanted to still be a part of this. Being an assistant isn’t a bad thing, but after 23 years, I just said, ‘Let’s do it.'”

A Cony hockey player takes a shot during the first day of practice Monday in Hallowell.

Gardiner has more than 30 kids signed up for hockey this winter. Unlike his counterpart at Cony, Wing has been waiting for the day to call the Tigers his own.

“I love these kids, and I want nothing but success for them on the ice and beyond,” Wing said. “They’re eager to please. They’re always aiming to make a coach as happy as they can be. They’ve got a willingness to learn, they’re always wanting more out of practice.”

The Tigers and Rams face off Dec. 22 at the Ice Vault in their only regular season meeting this winter.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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