HALLOWELL — First impressions being important and all, the Kennebec Riverhawks made a good one in the opening game of a central Maine high school hockey tournament doubleheader Saturday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault.

“It does feel like playoffs. Everybody wants to win it just as much,” said Kennebec senior captain Nate Newgard, who eclipsed the 100-point mark for his career with a four-point night in a win over Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth/Erskine. “It’s become a little more normal playing (in empty arenas), but it is still a little bit awkward.”

That’s the only awkwardness that remains for Newgard, who stepped into the RiverHawk program as a sophomore. He was afforded the opportunity to play with Tom Tibbetts that season, and then last year with Cody Ivey as his pivot in the middle.

This season, while he’s got Brandon Mason as a fellow senior with some offensive flair in his game, Newgard has been one of the horses pulling the Kennebec cart.

 

The change to a leadership role in the dressing room has only been one of the improvements to Newgard’s duties in the No. 91 sweater.

“I think my role has become increasingly more important,” Newgard said. “Every year it has. I think with Cody gone, it made me need to score a little more maybe.”

“You’ve got to remember, too, that last year he played half of the season at defense,” Kennebec coach Jon Hart said. “He’s one of the most unselfish players we have. He’s our best puck handler and has been for years. When he has the puck, it’s the closest thing you can get to a deep breath — you know good things will happen.

Kennebec Riverhawks’ Sam Lloyd (92) and Michael Fisch (22) celebrate with teammates on the bench after Lloyd scored a goal against Cony/Monmouth/Hall-Dale during the central Maine hockey tournament Saturday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“I just can’t say enough about him. He’s smart with the puck, he’s unselfish, and he could probably have more points.”

Newgard finished off his hat trick with 6:10 remaining on Saturday, helping lift Kennebec to an 11-4 win over Cony/Monmouth/Hall-Dale/Erskine in the RiverHawks’ opening effort of the “COVID Cup” central Maine hockey tournament. Kennebec will finish off its round-robin play against Camden Hills on Wednesday. With a win, they’re guaranteed a spot in Friday’s championship game.

In the other game Saturday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault, Messalonskee beat Capital Region for the third time this season, 3-1. The Eagles’ own 100-point club member Myles Hammond had a goal and an assist in the victory, including the game-winner less than two minutes after the Hawks tied the score midway through the second half.

The Eagles will play Gardiner on Monday night, and with a victory Messalonskee will punch its ticket in the title contest. Capital Region beat Gardiner, 3-1, in the opening game of the tournament last Thursday.

“The go-ahead goal, it’s always a little bit crazy,” Hammond said. “You don’t really know what happens after you score, you just kind of celly.”

Messalonskee’s Tyler Hanson (10) scores a goal on Capital Region goalie Thomas Thornton to put the Eagles up 3-1 during a central Maine hockey tournament game Saturday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Messalonskee finished with a 40-14 shots on-goal advantage, but had trouble finishing off plays until late in regulation.

“When you come back and the shots are 15-4 (at halftime) and you’re only up by a goal, you feel like you’re killing them but you’re not,” Hammond said.”The only thing that counts is goals, and it gets frustrating. We did a good job staying at it and not changing what we did.”

But the early statement Saturday was made by Kennebec, with the Riverhawks looking in the offensive zone like a team skating with an extra attacker. Extra passes in and around the slot set up some easy tap-in scores, with both Sam Lloyd and Don Gurney each netting a pair of goals in the win. Mason, Chris Williams, Jared Newgard and Peter Sack each finished with two-point nights.

It was a far cry from Kennebec’s 9-3 season opening loss to Cony.

“I thought it was the best passing and movement we’ve had,” Hart said. “We’ve talked a lot about commitment to team play, and I think that’s what we did.”

Newgard was just happy to have the win.

“I don’t think it’s that important,” Newgard said. “I think it’s less important than winning. If I’d have gone out there and not gotten 100 points and we still won, I’d have been just as happy.”

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