HALLOWELL — When a pair of longtime rivals hit the ice Saturday night at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault, they’ll do so while still trying to change the existing cultures in their respective programs.

Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth and Gardiner both skate into the cross-class meeting off victories, but both still face issues when it comes to the on-ice product. For the Rams, it’s been about bringing the same compete level to the rink each night regardless of the opposition. For the Tigers, it’s been the same problem that’s plagued the squad for the last couple of seasons — taking far too many penalties.

Though Gardiner (2-2-0) upset Class A Mt. Ararat on Wednesday, the Tigers had to kill off six penalties in the overtime victory. Against Camden Hills last weekend, the Windjammers torched the Tigers for four power-play goals in a 6-2 win.

“We’ve taken some very undisciplined penalties,” first-year Gardiner coach Tyler Wing said. “It’s been something in the works for us, as far as working on taking that extra step. We need to take the extra step out there to make sure we’re doing the right thing and not taking the lazy way out.”

Gardiner won only three games last season and missed the Class B South tournament with a young team reeling from heavy graduation. This time around, a number of the Tigers are a year older, though still toting plenty of inexperience.

“We’re still very young,” Wing said. “I’m very pleased with the way the kids have played. They’ve played hard, they’ve left it on the ice. But we have to find a way to maintain the aggression.”

Cony coach Shawn Johnson knows something, too, about inconsistency. After a good showing in a season-opening loss to defending state champion Lewiston, the Rams (1-3-0) haven’t found the same effort from night to night.

Boosted by the return of players from suspension Wednesday, Cony snapped a three-game losing streak to begin the season with a 4-1 victory over winless Windham/Westbrook.

“We have that culture of whoever we’re playing, we seem to change how we play,” Johnson said. “When you go in and play Lewiston, you have that mentality of ‘God, they’re so good, we’re going to have to bring our A game.’ Then there’s other teams in the league — and it’s exactly what they think of us, too, I’m sure — you play Cony, you play Brunswick, you play Mt. Ararat, any of the teams that haven’t traditionally been the upper echelon, and you go in thinking it’s going to be an easier game. But it’s not easier.”

Completely outplayed by Brunswick in a 4-0 loss at home last weekend, Cony learned that lesson the hard way.

“Sometimes we focus too much on referees or too much on things that are being said to you on the ice, instead of focusing on the game and being more mentally tough,” Johnson said. “That’s really what I’m trying to bring to this group, show them that when you don’t have that mental toughness (those kinds of losses are) what’s going to happen.

“You’re going to have problems, there’s going to be penalties, and it’s just a domino effect. It’s frustrating.”

• • •

Year two of the Kennebec RiverHawks, the Waterville and Winslow co-op, got off to an impressive start.

With shutout wins over both John Bapst and Messalonskee to begin the season, the RiverHawks didn’t allow a goal until Brewer’s Trey Baker scored in the second period of Wednesday’s 5-4 Kennebec win at Alfond Rink.

That’s a span of 108 minutes, 13 seconds of shutout hockey posted by Kennebec goalie Ben Grenier, who did not play last season.

What happened after Baker’s goal, however, was unexpected. Brewer finished Wednesday’s contest with four goals in a span of 14:56.

“At first we were a little shook,” Kennebec coach Jon Hart conceded. “But we responded at the end, even after a couple of mistakes late. We’re getting our feet under us. This is a game you like, though. If you lose it you don’t, but you really like seeing the team pull that out.”

Grenier has been very good for the RiverHawks (3-0-0). Even after letting in four against the Witches, the senior’s goals against average stands at 1.33. He made just 15 saves Wednesday, but a number of those came against 2-on-1 transition rushes or against one-timers from the circles.

One reason for the oppostion generating good scoring chances from dangerous areas comes from the team’s flexibility. A glut of forward depth gives three very good lines, while still allowing Kyle Gurney to convert into a defenseman and forwards John Evans and Zach Menoudarakos seeing stints on the blue line already.

“I thought the little things are getting better, but I’m not satisfied,” Hart said. “Ben has kept us in it. Our D-zone has been getting a little too aggressive sometimes. You’ve got to play defense first. It’s frustrating when it doesn’t happen every time the way you preach it, but that’s why we do it. That’s why we practice.”

The RiverHawks travel to face Old/Town Orono (2-0-0) Saturday afternoon in a matchup of unbeatens.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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