WATERVILLE — Even in a top-heavy league, even with the number of high school hockey teams dwindling, even with a team projected to be among the best in Class B North, nothing was easy about Jon Hart’s job behind the Kennebec RiverHawks bench.

In just the second year of marriage between to hockey communities with decades of prior individual hockey history, Hart led the Waterville/Winslow co-op to the regional final for the first time. For his efforts, Hart has been chosen as the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel hockey coach of the year.

“I think we put ourselves in position to be one of the top teams in the league,” said Hart, whose team finished with a 15-5-0 record.

Hart was tabbed to lead the program when Waterville and Winslow first joined forces, and he helped the RiverHawks get to the playoffs in their first year together.

This season, with a group of returning forwards and newcomers at both ends of the rink, he expected the team to be better. But injuries to key players — and a lack of depth among the defensive corps — threatened to derail Kennebec’s season.

Three of the four defensemen Hart employed in the playoffs were converted forwards, testament to his ability to get veteran players to buy in to a team-first mentality.

In the end, the RiverHawks came within a single goal — and a couple of hit posts — of beating Old Town/Orono in the regional final and playing in the state championship game earlier this month.

But winning a championship is only half of Hart’s goal for his program.

“One of my big goals is winning a sportsmanship award,” said Hart, who has a .675 winning percentage in two seasons as a head coach. “I think there’s a big misconception that you can’t win it all and have good sportsmanship.

“I want our team to be the first team to go all the way and get the sportsmanship award. I believe you can carry yourself that way and still win. That’s something I’ve believed for a long time.”

In a league where the top three were separated by a fraction of a single Heal point at the top of the standings, simply reaching the regional final was an accomplishment in and of itself.

“I’m so happy to be a part of this league,” Hart said. “It’s a great league with great coaches.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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