AUBURN — Shon Collins wanted to see what his hockey team was made of Monday.
With the first day of practice for girls' high school hockey teams around the state, Collins gave pucks the day off, but that wasn't the case for his players.
The new coach for the Edward Little-Leavitt hockey team skated his Red Hornets in their first practice, and then he skated them some more.
"They worked hard today," said Collins. "I wanted to see what kind of shape we're in and see a little bit of intestinal fortitude (and find out) which girls can dig deep when they're exhausted."
Collins has coached with the Gray New Gloucester-Poland program as well as the Edward Little teams. He takes over the Red Hornets this year.
Though having players from two different schools can be a challenge, there wasn't much need for introductions Monday.
"Having been involved in the program the last two years and coaching in Auburn, I'm somewhat familiar with all the girls," said Collins. "Even though it's two different high schools, they played together in Auburn Youth Hockey and have known each other."
Collins had 16 players skating the first day and has a handful more that may join the roster. Among the returnees are standout junior forward Taylor Landry, who helped lead the third-seeded Red Hornets to the Eastern A semifinals last winter. Seniors Shelbea Russell, Sidney Nadeau and Shaylin Collins are all returning seniors. Junior Amanda Grenier and sophomores Tori Sanford, Danica Nadeau and Emma Martineau also are back.
"We've got four or five new girls," said Collins. "So most of the girls are returning. The core of our team is pretty much in tact. We lost three seniors last year that contributed, but we've got some girls that have been n the program the last couple years that are ready to step up."
Just a few days ago, many of the St. Dom's girls were playing soccer.
Kelley McLellan, Kayla McLellan, Emily Poulin, Tia Rotolico and Emma Byrne all were on the Saints team that reached the regional final. St. Dom's lost in the Western Class C championship game in overtime last Wednesday. Otherwise, they would have been challenging for the state title this past Saturday.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't play Saturday, but it's a big transition going from soccer to hockey in such a short amount of time," said senior forward Kelley McLellan. "I think it prepared us more for hockey and gets our minds off soccer."
The soccer team had built up to last week's intense playoff atmosphere, winning the Mountain Valley Conference title along the way. Just a few short days later, those players are shifting gears.
"In a way, it feels like we're starting over again," said McLellan. "It's a young team this year. It gives us more momentum coming off the playoff atmosphere. It's a new beginning, but it's an exciting beginning."
Despite being conditioned by the rigors of the soccer season, the Saints aren't necessarily primed for hockey.
"It's a different feeling going from soccer to hockey," said McLellan. "My legs will be sore tomorrow."
The Saints had 11 skaters on the ice Monday with a few others out with injuries. Coach Don Boucher is optimistic.
"We've got all our key players back," said Boucher, whose team missed the playoffs last year. "So we're pretty excited. I think we'll be able to play well. We should be a lot better than last year."
The Blue Devils took the ice right after St. Dom's did Monday with their own optimism.
"It's always exciting because it's always a new adventure," said Lewiston coach Ron Dumont, whose team was ranked fourth last year and lost in the quarterfinals. "We have a lot of kids coming back. We have some freshmen coming in, and we picked up a few girls. It's always exciting. You never know how they're going to mesh as a team, but we're looking forward to it."
Dumont is especially pleased that this group has a better depth of hockey seasoning than past Lewiston teams.
"A big thing for us is that for the first time, everybody on the team has some hockey experience," said Dumont. "Two or three years ago when we had low numbers, we had five or six girls that had never even skated. So right off the bat, we're one step ahead."
The Blue Devils have 15 players out. Among them are girls that have been with the program for three or four years.
Natalie Rousseau is a four-year starter. Bri Lajoie is a senior goalie. Junior Emily Turner is a three-year player, while Erin Hubbard is a returning defender.
"We have some kids in their third year," said Dumont. "So it's their year after getting their feet wet. So I expect some good things out of them."