HALLOWELL — The Cony-Gardiner hockey rivalry takes place in a fishbowl.

It matters little which division either team plays in. It matters less where either team ranks in the standings. If you’re counting up wins and losses for both sides entering the game, you’re already heading down the wrong path. The game has had its 1-0 nail-biters, its bazillion goal shootouts and its penalty-filled brawls. There seems to be little pre-game to indicate how the game will play out, and the same was certainly true heading into Thursday’s matinee between the two teams at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault.

To wit: Less than 24 hours earlier, the Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth Rams had been soundly outclassed and outplayed in an 8-2 loss on the road at Kennebec; the Gardiner Tigers were unbeaten thanks to an impressive top-to-bottom performance last week against Messalonskee.

Yet, there Cony was Thursday afternoon, celebrating a 3-2 win over Gardiner to improve to 3-2-2 in Class B North this season.

‘The key to playing in a game like this against Gardiner every year seems like, ‘Who is going to stay in control the most? Who’s not going to play for the fans, but play for their team?'” Cony coach Shawn Johnson said. “Every year that they’re amazing and we’re not, or we’re amazing and they’re not, it makes no difference. Once we get together it’s that mentality of playing to the fans. It can totally change the tide of a game, I think. It’s been like that for as long as I can remember.”

In an odd twist to the tale of this Cony season, the Rams found a collective motivation in the rivalry with Gardiner. Instead the flat start they’d produced against Kennebec, they pushed the pace and created chances.

For a team that’s equal parts young and inexperienced in key spots, Cony rose to the challenge.

Senior defenseman Zack Whitney said he wasn’t surprised at the way his teammates handled pressure as the game’s temperature turned up.

“It’s just the intensity of the Cony-Gardiner game,” Whitney said. “We came way more prepared. We knew it was going to be a tough game, so we came ready to go.”

Gardiner (1-1-0), on the other hand, didn’t manage the game — or its emotions — well enough to win, despite a pair of goals from Cody Rizzo and a chance to tie the score late in the third period.

The Tigers were whistled for 26 minutes in penalties Thursday, including a misconduct and several retaliatory infractions. That allowed Cony a good night on the power play, converting on two of its six chances with the man-advantage, including Tyrell Sousa’s critical strike on the power play less than six minutes into the third period for a 3-1 lead at the time.

“The Cony-Gardiner rivalry chirped up quite a bit in the first and second periods,” Gardiner coach Tyler Wing said. “Penalties killed us again. We’ve got to find a way to stay out of the box.”

“It’s always been like that,” Whitney said. “We tried to keep our retaliation low. We’ve had guys get kicked out of this game in past years, and then we lose them for a few games (to suspension). We need everyone this year, especially if we want to go deep. But it’s an in-the-moment thing.”

For as disappointing as the loss to Kennebec had been for Cony, Johnson took heart in the way his team regrouped and played with composure against Gardiner. And after falling behind by a goal early in the game, the Rams didn’t push all their cards across the table and fold.

Not then, and not when an older and more physically inclined Gardiner team started bringing their smashmouth hockey into the Cony zone with purpose.

“It’s a mental game. It’s a tough game to play in, and it’s a tough game to coach, for sure,” Johnson said. “Our hope as a coaching staff is that (letdown) doesn’t happen. We prep them, and we told them as much as we could that this game is a mental game. You have to stay disciplined. You have to move your feet.

“You have to play every shift like it’s the last shift you’re ever going to play in your life.”

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