HALLOWELL — Geography is a funny thing. Just ask Jack Rioux, head coach of the Capital Region Hawks.

“We went from being the northern-most team in Class B South to the southern-most team in Class B North,” said Rioux, whose Maranacook/Winthrop/Lawrence/Madison/Spruce Mountain co-op team joins Gardiner as the two former Class B South teams making the switch to the northern division for the upcoming season. The slate opens Saturday night with five Class B North contests.

This season Class B North consists of 12 teams, including three teams that were not part of the league in 2018-19. In addition to Gardiner and Capital Region, Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth is dropping down from Class A North to compete in Class B for the first time this season. Those squads join reigning regional semifinalists Old Town/Orono, the Kennebec RiverHawks (Waterville/Winslow), Presque Isle and Camden Hills in the new-look league. Former members Brewer, Messalonskee, Hampden, Houlton/Hodgdon and John Bapst round out B North.

From the perspective of both Gardiner and Capital Region, the move makes sense for two reasons. First, from a travel perspective, it means the two teams no longer make trips to Dover, New Hampshire, to play Marshwood as part of the league slate. And, from a competitive balance angle, the Tigers and Hawks join a league with more parity than top-heavy B South boasts.

“Going to B North is going to be an adjustment for us, just in the sense that we’re so used to high-caliber, fast-paced south hockey and I haven’t seen north hockey (regularly) in three years,” said second-year Gardiner head coach Tyler Wing, who opens the year at Messalonskee next Wednesday. “But I know that my team is ready and willing to compete at any level we go to.”

Three seasons ago, Gardiner finished as the top seed in Class B South but was bounced in dominant fashion by fourth-seeded Greely in the regional semifinals. That Tiger team was one of the program’s best in several years, yet it had little chance of matching up against a program with four Class B state championships in an 11-year span.

Class B North offers Gardiner, a veteran-laden team this season, to consider itself among the list of favorites in a league where a case could be made for as many as seven or eight teams to shine.

“I think it’s going to be a lot better fit for us. If we make playoffs, we’ll actually be in contention to go further than the first round,” Wing said. “In years past… it did not look so good.”

Gardiner was used to bus trips that were 45 minutes or less for the bulk of its road schedule the past few years, traveling to southern Maine for games in Brunswick, Yarmouth and similar locations. Now, with the exception of games at Kents Hill’s Bonnefond Arena or Alfond Rink at Colby College, there are trips that stretch over an hour to Bangor, Brewer, Orono, Houlton and Presque Isle.

Wing said his players are already looking forward to spending some time together on the road.

“The team’s looking forward to that trip to Houlton and Presque Isle,” said Wing, who graduated from Gardiner in 2007. “It’s getting back to my roots of when I played hockey and we made that trip all the time.”

For Capital Region — which begins its season, ironically, against B South opponent Gray/New Gloucester/Poland on Wednesday — qualifying for the postseason is always a year-long goal. But there are smaller, less-lofty goals that mean just as much to a team that has won only three games total over the last four seasons.

Rioux likes the look of Class B North, with several programs on similar footing.

“There are more teams in Class B North in the same boat we are that are rebuilding,” Rioux said. “I think if you take the top guys out of Class B, and the rest of the talent pool is much more even.

“I just want to be competitive. You guys with longevity and depth within your programs, good luck to you. But for teams like ours, we just want the chance to compete.”

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