AUBURN — On a senior-laden team, you knew he was there, even as a freshman.

With another large group of seniors alongside him as a sophomore, he stood out.

After exploding to the top of his team’s scoring list as a sophomore and helping lead his team through a rough campaign as a junior, Kolby Arnold’s senior season has been a breath of fresh air.

Now, he’s expected to lead. And he’s doing that, with plenty of help and support from the rest of the squad, a luxury a few years in the making.

“This year, I feel a lot more players have stepped up and doing their part, and I’m still trying to do my part,” Arnold said. “There’s definitely a lot less pressure. It’s easier for me.”

“You can definitely tell in the way he plays, there’s more confidence in his teammates,” Poland/Gray-New Gloucester coach Aaron Rand said. “It’s taken some of the pressure off, and he’s able to go out there and play more relaxed.”

All of that has translated into a resurgent season for the Patriotic Knights, who finished last season 5-12-1 and well out of the playoff picture.

In 2007-08, Arnold’s freshman season, he finished sixth on the team in points with 17, behind three seniors and two juniors. The team went 15-5-0, but due to the reduced strength of schedule, placed fifth in Eastern A, one place out of hosting a playoff game. In the postseason, they lost 3-1 in the quarterfinal round to Lawrence.

“Never playing varsity hockey before, obviously, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Arnold said. “I had watched my brother play a bit, but that’s really it. I was one of the smaller guys, but I just went out there and did my best.”

Arnold exploded as a sophomore, leading the team with 22 goals and 30 points in 19 games. The six teammates immediately behind Arnold in points were all seniors. Again, the team finished with a solid regular-season record at 13-4-1, but settled for sixth in the Eastern A standings and a 7-2 quarterfinal loss to Lewiston.

With a largely new supporting cast as a junior, Arnold again led the team in points, but the rest of the team was still getting its feet wet at the varsity level, leading to the sub-.500 season.

What a difference a year made.

“We’re doing pretty well this season. I think it has a lot to do with the extra ice time we have to practice and get together,” Arnold said. “We also have a much bigger fan base, because we’re all closer to most of the team in Auburn. We’re all just working hard.”

“He’s playing a different role now with us, and he’s fine with that,” Rand said. “He’s the kind of kid, usually the only thing you ever hear from him is, ‘Yes, coach.’ He’s willing to do what it takes for the team, and it’s been great to have a player like that who has the talent he has.”

The Patriotic Knights are 9-4-1. With four games remaining, the possibility of a 13-win season (in an 18-game schedule) exists. In addition to bigger crowds and extra ice time, the growing trust between Arnold and his teammates is a big reason why.

“It’s definitely a help,” Arnold said. “I can pass it off and I know I’ll get it back. They can get it back to me, I can get it back to them and we can work together.”

That, he said, and the fact that Rand is now in his fourth year as the team’s coach. Rand is the only coach for which the players on the current roster have played.

“You learn the same basic ideas every year, you don’t have to switch up the whole game plan,” Arnold said. “We all get to practice together, and it’s definitely a help.”

“You’re able to implement your own system, and you don’t have to reteach things year in and year out,” Rand said. “That’s definitely a big help.”

Rand has helped establish a middle school feeder program, which he and Arnold both believe will be beneficial to the program in the long run.

“We didn’t have a middle school feeder program when I was coming up through,” Arnold said. “That addition is definitely going to help. We’re going to have more kids getting into it earlier so they can develop their skills.”

As for this season, Arnold is sticking to the old cliche, “one game at a time.” It’s worked for him in the past, he said, so why change now.

“Every game, I just want to do better than the last one,” Arnold said. “It doesn’t always work that way, obviously, but I’m always trying to push myself to do better.”


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