SACO — The fall high school sports season may be in full swing, but it was a winter sport, boys hockey, that captured the headlines in southern Maine.
To fill its vacant head coach position, defending Class A state champion Thornton Academy reached across “enemy” lines and hired Jamie Gagnon, who had been a fixture at archrival Biddeford.
At first blush, the hiring of Gagnon was both logical and bold.
After all Gagnon, who played at Biddeford in the 1990s, can flash some state championship rings of his own.
He was head coach of the Tigers for four seasons, winning state crowns in the last two, 2007 and 2008.
Then, after spending a year as an assistant coach at the University of New England, Gagnon rejoined Biddeford as a volunteer aide to his successor, Rich Reissfelder, just in time to win the 2010 state title.
So from that standpoint, Gagnon’s choice was a no-brainer.
“He impressed me as a capable coach,” said TA’s athletic director, Gary Stevens, “who had the knowledge of the game of hockey, a love for kids, and a system of values to tie it all together.
“The reason he has those championship rings, is because his program is about doing things the right way.”
But what about that Biddeford thing?
The schools have been battling each other in sports for more than a century. Doesn’t that count for something?
Not really. Not any more. Not when travel teams make teammates out of the most ancient foes.
In fact, back in the day, when both schools dominated the football landscape, the late Mike Landry, who was a coaching legend at Biddeford, actually resided in Saco while his Thornton counterpart, Dick Agreste, commuted to work each day from his home in Biddeford.
And so it is with Gagnon, who in “real life” is a financial analyst with Hannaford. He and his family have lived in Saco for several years, with his Biddeford High diploma stored safely inside.
“I have known for some time,” said Gagnon, “that there would be a day that I’d be donning the Maroon and Gold in support of our (two young) boys.
“For as many battles as I have had against TA, whether as a player or a coach, one thing was always certain — both programs were proud and passionate, and both would compete with every ounce of what they had for every minute they were on the ice. I am looking forward to the healthy rivalry and to many more competitive contests in the future.”
It won’t be dull around their shared home, Biddeford Ice Arena, that’s for certain.
Especially during two nights in particular this winter.
Veteran writer Dan Hickling has covered sports from preps to the pros throughout Maine and beyond. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org