Gardiner’s Chase Kelley, left, looks to deflect the puck as Messalonskee’s Tyler Hanson shoots and misses on Gardiner goalie Sean Doyle during a Jan. 1 game at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The Gardiner boys hockey team opened the season with an 8-0 victory over the Kennebec River Hawks on Dec. 11 before losing its next three games.

The tough stretch is only compounded of late as the pandemic has taken a toll on the program as well. A few players on the team have had to miss time for a variety of reasons, and a game scheduled last week against Cony/Monmouth/Erskine/Mt. Blue/Richmond was postponed at the last minute due to a COVID issue.

“It’s just a matter of having everyone either healthy or (back) grade-wise,” Gardiner head coach Tyler Wing said. “Right now, we’ve been on the tail end of kids getting COVID or being close contacts for COVID. That’s been a challenge. We’ve also got a couple kids right now out on grades, but we’re looking to get them back coming the next (grade) check, so that’ll be a huge help.”

Wing was also out of action for the first weeks of the season because of COVID.

“I lost two weeks (of the season) right there,” Wing said. “I wasn’t down (on the ice) with the boys until two weeks after the season started. So we’ve been playing a little catch-up there. And then every time somebody is a close contact, you lose them for at least 5-10 days depending on what the outcome of the COVID test is. It’s been a challenge. I try to face it with the understanding that it’s going to get better. But it takes the wind out of your sails.”

The schedule hasn’t been kind, either. The Tigers had to play Messalonskee (5-0-0) — the top team in Class B North — twice in their first four games, losing 5-3 and 5-1. The Tigers also dropped a tight 3-2 decision to No. 2 Camden Hills (4-1-0).

The Tigers return a veteran-heavy roster this season. Wing said forwards Nate Luiz, Garret Doyle and Cam Lasselle, as well as goaltender Sean Doyle, have been playing strong hockey of late. Furthermore, Wing added, the progression of sophomore forward Gavin White has been impressive.

“(Garret Doyle) has been very fundamentally sound every year and has been very good,” Wing said. “He’s come out hard this year. He’s already got five goals for us. That’s been huge.”

 

• • •

 

The Kennebec River Hawks are in an unenviable position.

Kennebec — comprised of players from Waterville and Winslow — are short in numbers, with only 13 players on the roster this season. The River Hawks are 0-2-0, with its last game coming on Dec. 15. The River Hawks had to cancel its home opener on Dec. 30 due to not having enough players.

“Our kids are handling it well,” Kennebec head coach Todd Dostie said. “We preach mental toughness and overcoming adversity. I just told them that with our numbers, this is the kind of season we’re going to have. They’ve kind of prepared themselves that this was going to happen to us. But we’re going to go forward and we’ll keep going.”

Gardiner’s Evan Michaud, left, defends the net as Messalonskee’s Owen Kirk shoots and misses on Gardiner goalie Sean Doyle during a Jan. 1 game at The Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Dostie has been pleasantly surprised by the play of goaltender Wyatt Grenier. A senior, Grenier is still relatively new to the position.

“He played (goalie) for us a couple years ago for two games,” Dostie said. “This year, he’s actually looking really good. He just stepped up and said, ‘Hey, I’m a senior, coach. This is my last year, we don’t have a goaltender. I’ll be goalie.’ And he’s been doing really awesome. One of the games we had (Dec. 15 against Hampden Academy), he had 48 saves.”

Despite the numbers, Dostie is also happy with the team’s early progression.

“The kids are starting to come together as a team,” Dostie said. “Over the last week or so, they’ve really started to come together, we’re starting to see some progress.”

 

• • •

 

Messalonskee keeps trucking along.

Now 5-0, the Eagles sit as the lone remaining undefeated squad in Class B North.

Owen Kirk (nine goals, six assists) leads the Eagles offensively, followed by Bryce Crowell (four goals, four assists) and Garrett Card (five goals, two assists).  Messalonskee has scored 28 goals, averaging 5.6 per game.

Mitchell Grant and Giovanni Caccamo have taken turns with the goaltending duties. Grant is 3-0-0 with a 2.62 goals against average, while Caccamo is 2-0-0 with a 3.00 GAA.

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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