WATERVILLE — It is said that home is where your heart is. The Gardiner boys hockey team had plenty of that in a wild, come-from-behind win over Waterville/Winslow Wednesday night at Colby College’s Alfond Rink that may have cemented Class B North as precisely the right fit for the Tigers.

“I honestly think it is,” Gardiner senior Jared Shaw said, only minutes after punching home the rebound of a Cam Rizzo shot while on the power play to lift the Tigers to the 6-5 win. “Every game we play, we’re even. It’s definitely a battle every game, so I definitely think it’s a good thing for us.”

Last season, Gardiner slogged through a 7-10-1 season in Class B South, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. In 2016-17, the Tigers earned the top spot in that league entering the postseason, only to get bounced in the regional semifinals by Greely.

This year, after significant changes to boys hockey’s divisional alignments, Gardiner is in Class B North. With the victory over Kennebec on Wednesday, the Tigers are 5-3-0 on the season and sitting inside the league’s top four teams.

Gardiner High School’s Jared Shaw (20) scores on the rebound on Kennebec RiverHawks goalie Bryce Gunzinger (30) for the 6-5 win in overtime Wednesday at Colby College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

While there are some new trips to get accustomed to — Bangor, Houlton and Presque Isle chief among them — and they’ve dropped games against teams ahead of them in the standings like Camden Hills and Old Town/Orono, second-year head coach Tyler Wing believes B North is the right fit.

“I think we’re finding our home here,” Wing said. “We like the play here. We’re starting to like it, and we like the competition. There’s a huge variety of play. You go from a Camden Hills who is blazing fast to a Messalonskee which has a bunch of skilled players we have to try to stop. Old Town/Orono, they’re just so good. We were down 1-0 to them (last weekend) and then you look, and boom, it’s 5-0. There’s a lot of different teams, a lot of different styles.”

Against Kennebec and a hat trick from RiverHawk senior center Cody Ivey, Gardiner found itself down 5-2 just three and a half minutes into the third period.

But Jon Flynn and A.J. Chadwick scored goals less than five minutes apart to pull the Tigers to within a goal at 5-4 with 6:14 remaining in regulation. When Rizzo knotted things up at the 12:47 mark, Gardiner had done enough to at least force overtime for Shaw’s heroics.

Last season, one was left to wonder, would Gardiner have been able to muster just such a three-goal comeback against a defending regional finalist?

Neither Wing nor Shaw was so certain they would have.

“We’re trying to finish out the season strong, so every little push we have helps,” Shaw said. “Last year, we knew there were good teams we were playing, and when we’d get down we’d kind of get down on ourselves. It’s hard to come back from that, especially when you’re down on yourselves.”

“We always had the drive (in B South), but coming back in games was difficult because those teams are just relentless in every aspect,” Wing said. “It was just insane to try and find a way to come back most times.”

So here the Tigers are, and with two wins over Messalonskee — the Eagles’ only two losses of the season — among the team’s standout performances in the first half of the season, they appear poised to stay.

Which is just fine by them.

“It’s huge for us in terms of finding our stride,” Wing said. “It’s about making sure we’re clicking as a team and really driving home that no game is out of reach.”

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