KENTS HILL, Maine — When snow collapsed the roof at Kennebec Ice Arena in Hallowell in March, several hockey teams were left without a home.
The Cony High School Rams from Augusta and Gardiner High School Tigers will practice and play at Kents Hill’s Rist and Joy Bonnefond Ice Arena in the Harold and Ted Alfond Athletic Center.
A co-op team involving players from Hall-Dale High School of Farmingdale, Winthrop and Maranacook of Readfield already practices at Kents Hill as does the Kents Hill boys and girls varsity teams and the boys JV team.
“We have been very fortunate to be able to practice and play our games at Kents Hill,” said a grateful Paul Vachon, Cony High athletic director and former girls basketball coach. “I had looked into every situation possible. We didn’t want to practice early or late. The administration looked very hard at it. We knew we were going to be in a difficult situation. We talked about different scenarios at different arenas.”
Kents Hill is approximately 20 miles from Augusta and he noted that instead of practicing “four or five days a week, we’ll practice two or three days. But they’ll have [more] dry land training. They’ll be in the weight room and they’ll be creative [with dry land drills].
“We have an outdoor rink in the city. Maybe it’ll be fun for them to go out and practice there once or twice,” said Vachon.
He said they usually will practice from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. during the week at Kents Hill and they also will practice on Sundays. There will be an occasional 7 p.m. practice, too, he said.
Gardiner also will practice on Sundays in addition to ice time during the week.
Cony gets out of school at 1:30 and the players promptly will board a bus for Kents Hill.
“We aren’t going to allow the kids to drive to Kents Hill,” said Vachon. “We’re fortunate that we’re one of the schools that gets out early.”
Vachon said he has learned a lot about the passion in the hockey community.
He said the parents of the players have held fundraising events such as a golf tournament to ensure that they’re able to run their program as effectively as possible without their own rink.
“They love their hockey. They’re as passionate about their sport as I was about basketball,” said Vachon, who singled out Wendy Gagne for being a “tremendous help” to him during the process.
“She has walked me through this. She has the contacts and she knows all the ice arenas,” said Vachon.
He said the expense will be in the same range as the Kennebec Ice Arena because the expense of the bus transportation will be offset by the fewer number of practices.
Vachon said he is hearing rumors that the Kennebec Ice Arena will be rebuilt and he is hoping that will be the case.
But for the time being, they will make the most of the situation.
Kents Hill athletic director Jim Smucker and Todd Wheelden, rink manager and director of the Alfond Athletic Center, said they are happy to help out the community in the wake of the Kennebec Ice Arena collapse.
Wheelden recalled coaching the Kents Hill boys hockey team before the Bonnefond rink was built in 2001 and “we used to practice at the Kennebec Ice Arena.”
“We all need to work together in times of need,” said Wheelden.
Kents Hill’s three teams and the Maranacook-Hall-Dale-Winthrop program take precedence when it comes to the ice time, and then Wheelden has worked with Vachon and Gardiner athletic director Jeff Turnbull to accommodate them.
“We also have a group of over-35 players who like to get out there, and they’ve been sensitive to the issue [and altered their ice time to aid Cony and Gardiner],” said Wheelden.
“It’s important that we support all of our local schools and the student-athletes,” said Smucker. “We want them to have the opportunity to develop and showcase their talents. This is a good way for us to reach out [and help].”
Wheelden likes the fact the rink is busier these days.
“This is quite a way to celebrate [the rink’s] 10-year anniversary,” said Wheelden.