Messalonskee’s Bryce Crowell (15) tries to score as John Bapst goalie Gavin Bartlett makes the save during a Jan. 28 boys hockey game at Colby College in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

It was on a nearly four-hour bus ride home, following a loss at Presque Isle in early January, that things became crystal clear to Gardiner/Waterville/Winslow coach K.C. Johnson.

“I looked around and told the guys, ‘This is the black and blue division,’” Johnson recalled. “No team is head and shoulders above the division. Every team can have an off night and be beaten.”

As the final team to qualify for the Class B North tournament, which begins Wednesday when the seventh-seeded Tigers travel to Colby College to meet No. 2 Messalonskee for an 8 p.m. puck drop, perhaps no team better illustrates the parity in Class B North this season.

The Tigers lost their first six games of the season, won two straight, lost their next four and then won four of their next five to solidify their spot in the postseason.

“We’re still trying to find out who we are. We’re building a new culture again,” Johnson said of Gardiner/Waterville/Winslow (6-12-0). “They built a culture when (Waterville and Winslow combined in 2017), then had a season off where they played only three games because of Covid. Now you throw Gardiner into the mix and these guys have to try to re-invent a culture again.

“It’s difficult, but the kids have handled adversity well. We’re working hard, and the buy-in is there.”


John Bapst/Hermon/Bangor Christian/Deer Isle-Stonington (15-3-0) enters the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the region. The Crusaders are led by forward Carter Walls and netminder Gavin Bartlett. Walls has 37 goals and 21 assists (58 points) to lead the league in both goals and scoring. The numbers are so impressive that the 37 goals alone would be good enough to tie Walls for sixth in overall scoring.

Bartlett’s 1.68 goals against average and .936 save percentage lead the league among starters.

“They play smart, and they play the right way,” Johnson said of John Bapst.

John Bapst gets a bye straight to the regional semifinals. In the other regional quarterfinals, No. 3 Presque Isle hosts No. 6 Old Town/Orono, while No. 4 Hampden Academy entertains No. 5 Camden Hills.

Both Old Town/Orono and Camden Hills, including a Windjammer win in the season finale, have handed John Bapst losses this season.

Cony co-op boys hockey player Cooper Clark, left, and Waterville/Gardiner/Winslow’s Garrett Doyle go after a puck during a game Feb. 8 at The Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“They’re good,” Messalonskee coach Dennis Martin said John Bapst. “They’ve got firepower with Walls, and (Bartlett) has seven shutouts this year. But we don’t look ahead to anybody. We’re worried about Gardiner/Waterville/Winslow right now.”


The Eagles and Tigers met twice during the regular season.

Messalonskee held off Gardiner/Waterville/Winslow 7-6 in the season opener in December and posted a 5-3 victory in their most recent meeting on Feb. 6. The closeness of those two games were a product of how close the league was this year.

Despite the best record in B North at 15-2-1, Messalonskee played six games decided by two goals or less and 11 decided by three or fewer. The Eagles and Crusaders played only one time, with John Bapst using a third-period power-play goal to power a 3-0 win.

“It all depends who’s playing well,” Martin said. “We play one game at a time, get ready for each opponent and go from there. We come in skating, playing hard and trying to outwork the opponent.”

The three quarterfinal-round winners will join John Bapst in the regional semifinals Saturday. Semifinals are not held at a single neutral site as in years past, but will be hosted by the highest remaining seeds.

In Class B South, Brunswick and Cape Elizabeth earned the top two seeds, respectively, and quarterfinal-round byes. No. 3 Cheverus and No. 6 Gorham square off in one regional quarterfinal, with No. 4 York meeting No. 5 Leavitt in another.

Regional finals are slated for March 7-8 with the state championships on March 11.

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