Capital Region hockey coach Richard Fortin talks to players during a December practice at the Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Richard Fortin had never coached a high school hockey team before this season. And the first-year Capital Region boys coach knew this wasn’t exactly the best time to start.

“This was something that was brand-new for me,” he said. “This is probably about the worst time possible that you could jump into a new team. We have a lot less practices than we normally would, (and) at the beginning of the year we were really limited in what we were allowed to do.”

Maybe so. But Fortin and Capital Region — a team comprised of players from Maranacook, Winthrop, Lawrence, and Spruce Mountain — are finding ways to make it work in an unusually challenging season.

“To play hockey, you have to be resilient,” he said. “And we’re kind of working through that, and trying to work on building a new identity for the team and working on our system.”

There have been challenges, for every team playing during a pandemic, but especially for a program that pulls players from five schools and needs all five to be COVID-free in order to field a full squad.

“We’ve got kids out all the time. They’re quarantining, or their school’s remote,” he said. “I haven’t had a practice yet with my full team.”

Fortin and the Hawks, though, find ways around the hassles. They’ve had practices over Zoom that work essentially as film study. It’s tough to get consistent practice time at the Ice Vault — the Hawks had a 9:30 practice one night, and didn’t get home until close to midnight — so they had an outdoors practice Wednesday on Maranacook Lake.

“Right now, my focus as a coach is the practices,” Fortin said. “I want each player, from the time I first saw them to the time that our season ends … to be better, and have this real understanding and a buy-in to the new system that I’m trying to bring to the table.”

Fortin has been a coach for years at the youth levels and is the president of the Maranacook Area Youth Hockey Association, but was eager to take on the challenge of guiding a varsity program.

Kennebec RiverHawks forward Jared Newgard prepares to shoot during a game against Gardiner on Saturday at the Ice Vault in Hallowell. Newgard scored to give Kennebec a 5-4 lead. The RiverHawks won, 6-4. Photo provided by Heidi Bernier

“I’ve never coached older kids, where the focus starts to move towards systems and concepts,” he said. “So that’s been exciting for me, to bring that to a team and to try to establish an identity with a team.”

 

• • •

 

Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth/Erskine coach Shawn Johnson figured he had strength and depth at forward and in net. On defense, however, he knew his group would be shorthanded.

With a little moving around, the problem’s been solved. Johnson got forwards Jacob Godbout and Jack Morrill to switch to defense, and it’s stabilized the picture for the Rams, who are 1-0 after a 3-2 victory over Capital Region.

“They both realized it’s for the help of the team,” Johnson said. “I talked to them both, and they’re both very willing to do it and they’re both very capable of doing it. I think their preference probably is forward, but they’re not arguing.”

That’s the sort of buy-in Johnson said the team is going to need this season, one that due to pod scheduling has his team going up against Kennebec (three times), Gardiner, Capital Region and Messalonskee multiple times.

“I’m just trying to instill with them that there’s not a game we’re guaranteed to win,” he said. “We’re going to have to work every time we’re on the ice to get a win. I think we’ve got a decent group, but we’re not good enough to just blow people away. We need to work, and if we don’t work, the teams that are in our pod will.”

 

• • •

 

Mental toughness has been a focal point for coach Jon Hart and his Kennebec River Hawks over the years.

So far in 2021, it seems to paying off.

The River Hawks are 2-0, but after rolling to a 5-2 win in their opener, they had to dig deep in the next game after falling in a 3-0 hole to Gardiner. Kennebec scored the next four goals, and after the Tigers tied it, scored two more to come away with a 6-4 win.

“The hard work and the resiliency have been big,” Hart said. “We’ve preached that for years and mental toughness, and we have a lot of players on this team that have played on teams over the past few years that have had their ups and downs. We don’t quit.”

The River Hawks have controlled the play for most of the two games, but it hasn’t been one line doing all the work. The first line of Nate Newgard, Brandon Mason and Brandon Bearce has been clicking, but the second line of Chris Williams, Sam Lloyd and Jay Brock has the best plus/minus, and Hart also credited the play of defensemen Jared Newgard and Donald Gurney.

“This has been pretty spread out,” Hart said. “A couple from D, a couple from the second line. … I prefer to have it spread out, (rather) than being reliant on that one line.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.