The Winslow/Gardiner girls hockey team has no problem making their annual playoff appearance interesting.

The No. 5 Black Tigers (8-9-1) will travel to Travis Roy Ice Arena on Wednesday night to face fourth-seeded Yarmouth/Freeport (11-7-0) in a North regional quarterfinal. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Winslow/Gardiner and Yarmouth/Freeport split a pair of regular-season meetings, each winning on the other’s home ice. Last Saturday, on the final day of the regular season, the Black Tigers took a 3-2 decision from the Clippers to jump to fifth in the final Heal point standings and avoid a first-round matchup against No. 3 St. Dominic (12-4-2). The winner will meet undefeated top seed Lewiston (18-0-0) in the regional semifinals on Friday night.

“It’s a very good matchup for us,” Winslow/Gardiner head coach Alan Veilleux said. “It’s the matchup we kind of wanted. We just need to go out and execute our game. We’re feeling pretty good about it.”

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2. Edward Little/Leavitt/Poland awaits Wednesday’s winner between St. Dom’s and No. 6 Greely/Gray-New Gloucester.

For the Black Tigers, winners of three straight to close out the campaign and four of their last five, it feels like the last two playoff seasons all over again. In each of the two previous seasons, Winslow/Gardiner met Brunswick in the regional quarterfinals after splitting regular-season meetings, including two in overtime last season.

The key to Winslow/Gardiner’s late-season success has been its play in its own zone. After surrendering 52 goals in their first seven contests — going just 2-5-0 over that stretch— the Black Tigers have allowed only 18 in their last six games while posting a 4-2-0 record. First-year goalie Gabby Chambers, a junior, has elevated her play.

“She’s really stepped up and is playing very, very well,” Veilleux said.

After graduating the only goalie the cooperative program had ever known last spring, Chambers stepped in to fill the vacancy. She liked it so little at first, she contemplated not playing hockey this winter.

“She wanted to stop playing, so I talked to her and convinced her to give it a shot,” Veilleux said. “I’m glad she did.”

The team does not feature the offensive juggernaut of a top line it had a year ago, one led by Becky Shaffer Award finalist Evelyn Hinkley.

“That’s an understatement,” Veilleux said.

Instead, the Black Tigers rely on balanced production across a couple of lines. Anna Chadwick, Lindsey Bell and Kaitlin Fecteau are the top trio ahead of Desiree Veilleux, Taylor Rodriguez and Gabby Hebert. Defensively, the group is deep — with Gabby Benson and Julia Hinkley leading a group that provides some punch from the blue line.

“We’ve been very low scoring,” Veilleux said. “We’ve got two lines that are pretty equal, and they’ve both been carrying us, giving us the scoring we need. For us, it’s about not giving up many goals.”

• • •

Messalonskee boys coach Kevin Castner was very honest in his assessment of the first two-thirds of the Eagles’ season.

“I was expecting us to be better than what we are,” Castner said.

Messalonskee was 1-11-0 heading into Monday night’s skate against John Bapst, having lost 11 straight to begin the year with a team comprised almost entirely of underclassmen. Castner expected ups and downs with a team featuring nine freshmen, but it’s been a more difficult adjustment to the varsity game than the coach anticipated.

“We’re running into two things. We’re taking too many penalties to be effective and there’s been too much inconsistent play,” Castner said. “But that kind of goes along with being a young team. It’s hard to get them to be consistent when most of them are just coming into the league and high school hockey. It’s a new experience for them.”

The Eagles snapped the winless stretch with a 9-3 victory over Lawrence/Skowhegan/MCI last week. While it didn’t exactly shoot them up the standings and into postseason contention, it provided a needed emotional lift.

Messalonskee has lost by seven or more goals seven times this season.

“It’s tough to go through a season where everybody is putting it to you,” Castner said.

The team has formed a mini co-op with Waterville and Winslow to field a team for junior varsity games. The merger allows a large portion of the Messalonskee lineup to get more high school minutes while also giving a deep Kennebec RiverHawks program and chance to find ice time for the bottom its own roster.

The results have been good, according to Castner.

“The kids are competing really well at that level,” he said. “They lost to Old Town/Orono by a goal, they beat Brewer, they’ve played in some other close games. At their age level there, they’re competing well. At the (varsity) level, they’re struggling. But as the season is going forward, we’re seeing some confidence from some of the younger players, and we’re starting to see some of that consistency we want.”

• • •

Maranacook/Winthrop/Madison senior goalie Will Hays topped the 2,000-save mark for his career last month. The Hawks’ puck-stopper turned away all 21 shots he faced in a 2-0 win over Messalonskee on Jan. 28 to earn his first career shutout.

Travis Barrett — 621-5611
[email protected]
Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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