CAMDEN, Maine — The Camden Hills High School boys basketball program has made a name for itself with five Eastern Maine Class B championships and three state titles in the last eight seasons.
The Windjammers may soon be sharing the limelight with the boys hockey program, which just completed its sixth varsity season with a 10-7-1 record and returns all but three players next season.
Camden Hills athletic director Bill Hughes said they have such an influx of incoming freshmen, they are looking at starting a junior varsity program.
“The hockey program is very healthy,” Hughes said. “It has been embraced by the community. [Head coach] Karl Enroth has done a fantastic job leading the team. We had a successful season, we qualified for the playoffs and we feel pretty good about the future of the program. The incoming freshman class is very healthy.
“We’re poised for success,” Hughes said.
The Windjammers earned the fourth seed but lost to No. 5 Yarmouth, 7-6, in their Western Maine Class B quarterfinal.
“They will contend [for the title] in Western B next year,” predicted Orono coach Greg Hirsch, whose Red Riots lost to the Windjammers 4-3 last season. “They’re on the verge of taking things to the next level. They have been incredibly competitive in Western B and if they get to the West final, anything can happen.”
Hirsch was impressed with the Windjammers on the ice.
“Their kids had great speed, they saw the ice very well and they were aggressive,” Hirsch said. “They could play a tough, physical style when they needed to.
“They’ve really put a lot of time and energy into their hockey program,” he added.
Hirsch also raved about their Mid-Coast Recreation Center facility in Rockport, which is 10 years old. It seats 400 and can accommodate 300 more in the standing-room section.
“The rink itself is fantastic. It’s a new, clean building with beautiful lighting,” Hirsch said. “There’s a standing-room balcony behind the goal where the visiting goalie spends two of the three periods and their students stand up there and make life really tough for the opposing goalie.
“It’s a lively crowd that embraces hockey and gets excited,” Hirsch added.
He also pointed out the tennis courts and a heated snack area upstairs from which to watch games.
“It’s a very spirited place,” Hughes said. “It’s packed on game night. It’s a source of school pride and spirit for all of our student body. It’s a rockin’ place. It’s loud, it’s fun.”
Hughes said the hockey boosters club funds the majority of the program. They pay $25,000 per year and that includes the ice time, the locker room upkeep, the uniforms and the referees.
The school spends $5,000 to pay the coach’s stipend and the bus transportation.
“There’s a great working relationship between the boosters and the school,” Hughes said.
He said the skill level continues to improve as youngsters who began playing hockey when the facility was built are reaching high-school age.
“This year’s team had the best skaters we’ve ever had,” Hughes said.
He compared the metamorphosis of the program to the growth of the University of Maine men’s hockey program.
Hughes played baseball at Maine from 1976-79 so he was there when the first Maine hockey team under Jack Semler started play in the 1977-78 season.
“They were really good but nowhere near the level Maine is now because of the success of the program and the [improved] talent level of the kids,” Hughes said.
Hughes said several of the team members play hockey year-round and play for teams such as the Maine Moose.
“Their coach has done a nice job. They have had some pretty good players the last couple of years. They have a nice facility and their fans have a lot of enthusiasm,” Hampden Academy coach Bill Schwarz said. “Their students really get into it. I enjoy playing down there.”
The Windjammers’ top five scorers will return next year. The top three point-producers were two sophomores and a freshman.
Grayson Szumilas had 16 goals and 14 assists, Jack Orne had 14 and 11 and freshman defenseman Jamey Zanca had 2 and 12.
Juniors Stephen Hand (8 and 5) and Jordan Tyler (7 and 6) were tied for fourth and also headlining the list of returnees is sophomore goalie Aaron Daniello (2.79 goals-against average, .900 save percentage).
Hughes said the hockey program has been a valuable addition to the school curriculum.
“It gives our kids another connection to the school,” Hughes said. “If you can give kids another reason to come to school and feel valued, they’re more apt to be successful.”
Hirsch favors Orono-Old Town merger
Brett Hale, who recently resigned as the Old Town High School coach, said he felt Orono and Old Town should combine their high school programs due to low numbers. They have already done so with their JV programs.
“It’s a necessity,” Hirsch said. “We graduate 11 seniors after next year and there aren’t enough kids coming in.”
He said he doesn’t see any problems teaming up with players from rival schools.
“The kids just want a place to play and to be competitive,” Hirsch said. “If that’s what it takes to offer hockey to those kids, that’s what we have to do.”