HALLOWELL — For some of members of the Winslow/Gardiner/Cony girls hockey team, the goal is fairly obvious this season.

“Win games,” said senior center Julia Hinkley, a standout for the Black Tigers since her freshman year.

For others on the team, the goal takes a look at the bigger picture of the girls game in general in the state of Maine. Numbers have remained strong, but not strong enough for many of the hundreds of players competing for one of 16 teams in two divisions.

“It’s about advocating, really,” said Katie Bailey, a senior at Winslow High School. “Girls hockey is a sport that’s not well known. I know a few people at our school still don’t recognize we have a girls team. It’s advocating, getting our name out there, getting more people to come to our games.”

Last season, the Black Tigers finished 8-10-1 overall, having lost in the regional quarterfinals to Yarmouth/Freeport, the same team they’ll kick their 2019-20 season off against at 5:30 p.m., Saturday at the Travis Roy Ice Arena in Yarmouth. Even in just its fourth season as a program, Winslow/Gardiner/Cony has established itself as a strong one. Two years ago, the Black Tigers made their first regional semifinal appearance.

That team was hit hard by graduation, and last winter the Black Tigers spent plenty of time trying to reshape themselves. The hope is that work will materialize this season, particularly with the addition of freshman goalie Emma Michaud — a Tier III travel player — to complement a defensive corps anchored by Hinkley and a top line centered by Bailey.

With a good defensive group already established, the hope is to keep the Black Tigers in games long enough to discover depth scoring up front.

“We’re trying to build some chemistry and trying to get some lines to jell,” Winslow/Gardiner/Cony assistant coach Michael Sullivan said. “We feel like we’re strong enough to compete. We’ve got some new girls that have shown plenty of talent. Hopefully, we can keep our games low-scoring and help ourselves out that way.”

Bailey liked the team’s makeup through the two-week preseason, and she thinks it’s a more tight-knit group than in the past.

But with experience comes a new role for the senior, who is now looked to as a leader instead of just another young player on the roster.

“We’ve always kind of come with the mindset, Julia and I, that we’re here to play and we’re here to lead,” Bailey said. “I feel like a lot of the new girls really look up to us. We tell them ‘do this’ and they’re really listening, and it’s helping the team. I went from getting asked no questions before to getting asked all of the questions now.

“Our team bonding is better than it’s been in seasons past.”

Hinkley believes the route to winning games and finding postseason success, like her outlook on the season, requires a simple formula.

“Play together, communicate and get some goals,” Hinkley said. “The team’s looking pretty good. We’re excited and ready to get the season started.”

Sullivan also coaches girls hockey at the middle school level. He said that there are many players out there, but bringing them together in high school remains tricky.

Finding a way to do that will be paramount to the girls game taking the next step statewide.

“At the youth level, there are a lot of girls,” Sullivan said, noting that part of the problem lies in the players themselves remaining geographically isolated with only one or two players in most small central Maine towns. “The thing is going to be trying to develop a program where we can get the local area schools all combined to set something up regionally.”

In the meantime, continued success for Winslow/Gardiner/Cony can create excitement for future potential Black Tigers.

“Like anything, it takes hard work and a lot of dedication,” Sullivan said. “This team definitely has a lot of heart and the desire to do well, so we’re hoping for the best.”

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