Well before the sun rises, Boston Merrow is up, dressed and ready to skate.

But before the Nokomis High junior can hit the ice with the Hampden Academy boys hockey team during the week, a long drive awaits.  

“The early practices are tough on us,” Merrow said. “It’s a pretty big drive to Bangor every morning, waking up at 4:30, go. It’s a haul. It’s a grind, man. But we get through it and do our best.”

Merrow is one of a handful of high school hockey players in central Maine who play for a co-op team in the Bangor area. Along with the Hampden/Nokomis co-op, Lawrence and Skowhegan players skate with Brewer High. 

While these co-op arrangements provide an opportunity for student-athletes to play hockey, they also come with challenges unique to the sport.

There’s the long commute to and from the practices in Bangor or Brewer — often well before school starts each day. There’s also a financial piece to it, as schools in a co-op often are asked to help offset costs, including ice time and uniforms.   


Lawrence senior Cam Dostie said he’s up by 3:30 a.m. each day in order to make the 55-mile drive to the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer for his team’s practice. Dostie said he often has the company of his grandfather, Doug Dostie, to help keep him company. 

“I love it, it gives us time to talk, just about anything,” said Cam Dostie. “Even in the offseason, we were talking about how we couldn’t wait to (make that drive) again, and he’s helped a lot; he’s made (morning drives) easier. He gets to go home after and sleep, I have to go to school after.”

Lawrence skated with Brewer as a co-op last season before Skowhegan joined the program this winter. Dostie is the lone Lawrence High player to play for the Brewer co-op, which is 4-5-1 this season and competes in Class B North. Skowhegan, meanwhile, has four student-athletes on the team, including junior forward Grant Cram, freshman forward Baylon Cram, sophomore forward Joshua Hitchings and sophomore forward Eddie Goff.

Hampden Academy/Nokomis’ Boston Merrow, right, gets checked by Brewer/Lawrence/Skowhegan’s Cam Dostie during a Jan. 18 game at Sawyer Arena in Bangor. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Nokomis has two student-athletes who play with Hampden — junior forward Merrow and senior forward Michael Connolly.

Like Dostie, the four Skowhegan players also make about a 55-mile journey north for practice. Parents of the players take turns driving the players to and from the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer.

“Every week, the coach posts what the schedule is for that particular week, just in case there’s changes,” said Autumn Cram, mother of Grant and Baylon Cram. “(The Skowhegan players and parents) have a group chat, and we just message and pick who (is going to drive) on which days. We’re all used to playing travel hockey together, they’ve all played for the Maine Moose. We’re used to traveling all over the state, out of state. The travel for us is not a huge deal, because we’re used to travel hockey.”


“We really love (the parents),” Hitchings added. “We wouldn’t be able to do anything without them. It’s really incredible.”

Nokomis student-athletes face a shorter drive to practice — about 31 miles one way to Bangor — but it’s no less of a grind.

“We go right to school after (practice), the bell rings around 8,” Merrow continued. “(Connolly) is the driver, I’m the passenger. He’s kind of like my chauffeur.”

Brewer Athletic Director David Utterback said it costs about $65,000 to field an ice hockey program each season. There is a pay-to-play fee of $2,000 for every player who does not attend Brewer High.

“To us, it’s not fair to the Brewer taxpayer to shoulder the financial burden,” Utterback said. “They’re actually getting a good deal, comparatively… (The total team cost includes) two paid coaches within the stipend, transportation (to away games), ice rental, supplies, uniform rotation, that adds up to excess of $60,000 annually.”

Brewer/Lawrence/Skowhegan’s Baylon Cram, left, gets around Hampden/Nopkomis’ Colin McKay during a Jan. 18 game at Sawyer Arena in Bangor. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Skowhegan Athletic Director Brian Jones and Lawrence counterpart David Packard said their respective schools pick up the costs.


“So far, it’s worked out really well with Brewer,” Jones said. “The boys are really happy and they’re getting plenty of ice time, contributing to the varsity team. It’s been really good.”

Nokomis Athletic Director Simon Elias said his school does not have to pay for its two of players to compete with Hampden Academy.

“We co-op in multiple sports and (traditionally) split a lot of the financial costs there,” Elias said. “Here, I talked with (Hampden Academy Athletic Director Barry Terrill) before and said maybe we can do a prorated (deal), pay a certain percentage. He pretty much said, ‘yeah, maybe we can figure out something, but don’t really worry about it.’ They pay for officials and travel. Our players drive themselves to and from practice. For them, it’s no real extra cost by having our two (players). There’s so few that they don’t seem worried about any sort of payment.”

Brewer and Hampden Academy are part of a growing number of co-op programs in Maine. Of the state’s 31 boys high school ice hockey programs, 17 are co-ops.

The Witches (4-5-1) and Broncos (5-5-1) are in the thick of the Class B North playoff race. Hampden Academy entered play Thursday sitting third in B North Heal points. Brewer/Lawrence/Skowhegan was seventh.

The central Maine players have made an impact this winter.


When the teams played to a 3-3 draw on Jan. 18, two Skowhegan players started. Furthermore, Merrow — a transfer student who previously played at Seacoast Performance Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire — is one of the Broncos’ top scorers, with eight points (three goals, five assists) this season.

Brewer/Lawrence/Skowhegan hockey players celebrate a goal during a Jan. 18 game at Sawyer Arena in Bangor. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

“It’s amazing, this is my first year playing (public) high school sports,” Merrow said. “I came from prep school, so I didn’t really get that experience. The crowds are amazing. … It’s a lot less practice (from prep hockey), a lot less games, but still just as much fun.”

“(Having the Nokomis players) has been great,” Hampden Academy head coach Zach Wilson said. “(Merrow) has fit in very seamlessly, both he and Michael Connolly. This is the only sport that they can’t offer at Nokomis, so it’s kind of nice that these kids are available and able to play for our school, and we were lucky enough to bring them in.”

Brewer/Lawrence/Skowhegan head coach Denis Collins said his central Maine players have contributed right away. Dostie (three goals, six assists) is third in the team in scoring, while Baylon Cram (four goals, two assists) is fourth.

“So far, not only do these guys get along with our players, in a very nice way, whenever we go somewhere to play, they’re very well-liked (by other teams),” Collins said. “(Recently), we played Messalonskee. They were buddies with everybody there. (They’ve been) very well-coached, the basics are out of the way. We’ve got a freshman, two sophomores and a junior, and they’re all contributing as first line and second line players. … These guys here are part of the team, (known) on a first-name basis. What I really like about them, their attendance (to practice) is superb. They have Monday morning practice at 5:30, they show up, they leave on time to get to school and they are huge contributors to the team right now.”

The players have said they feel welcome in the locker rooms.

“It’s been amazing (to play for Brewer),” Dostie said. “The guys here are really committed to the program, it’s really a lot of fun. They welcomed me right from the beginning.”

“It’s kind of weird, (playing) up here in Brewer, but it’s nice,” added Hitchings. “It’s amazing to be able to really contribute and be a part of this team. They took us in right away and have been so nice. We’ve made a lot of friends really quickly.”

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