WATERVILLE — For the second consecutive season, the Kennebec RiverHawks, the Waterville-Winslow boys co-op hockey team, find themselves among the best in Class B North.

The RiverHawks are off to 7-2-0 start and began this week sitting third in the regional standings at the season’s midway point. They’re averaging nearly five goals per game and have outscored the opposition by a 2-to-1 margin (44-22) through their nine games.

Even though the team finished its inaugural season last winter with an 11-7-0 mark and the quarterfinal-round bye that went along with the No. 2 seed in the regional tournament, somehow this year’s Kennebec team looks even better.

“Our turning point was when we lost the Old Town/Orono game (on Dec. 22),” Kennebec coach Jon Hart said Monday at Colby College’s Alfond Rink. “It was a weird game. We got up 2-0 and then just stopped playing. It felt very helpless. Then we went up and won the Houlton/Presque Isle double. It really went from there. We’ve added four new kids from the team last year, and it felt like a whole new team at times. Now it feels like we’re starting to get it.”

Certainly, the RiverHawks have more talent offensively than they did last season. The return of Zach Menoudarakos to the program after a year at Kents Hill School, as well as newcomers Cody Ivey and Nate Newgard from the junior hockey ranks, give Hart’s squad two lines capable of scoring goals.

The additions, plus a full season of the team’s leading scorer in Tom Tibbetts, have had an added benefit of giving the roster versatility from game to game, from shift to shift.

John Evans and Cooper Hart, both seniors, are seeing plenty of time along the blue line for the first times in their careers.

“It’s helpful having some bigger slower guys back there, just to grind out plays,” said Evans, who got his first taste of regular work as a defenseman during the team’s summer hockey program. “Back when Cooper and I were freshmen and sophomores, that was our job (as forwards). We’re back to our roots.”

“We had a few guys we (graduated) who could really fly last year, and some guys who were good puck-possession guys,” Jon Hart said. “Last year, if we got behind by a couple goals it was hard to climb back. This year, we know we’re going to score goals and feel like we’ll just keep going.”

The RiverHawks aren’t the only team in Class B who appear to be a changed group.

After winning just three games last season — one winter removed from finishing the 2016-17 campaign as Class B South’s regular-season champion, Gardiner is back among the South’s elite.

Wins over York and Brunswick, as well as against Class A foes Cony and Mt. Ararat, have the Tigers (7-3-0) positioned right behind undefeated regional leader Greely in mid-January.

Both Gardiner and Kennebec are hopeful that the early success points to long playoff runs in March.

“As any fan can see, it all depends on how we decide to play,” Evans said. “We really need to turn it on for three periods every night to prove to everyone what we can do and who we can be.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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