Two years ago, Joe Hutchinson and Travis Jalbert were assistants on Dave Boucher’s coaching staff at Leavitt.

In six weeks, they will be on opposite benches, working towards turning their respective ice hockey programs around.

Hutchinson is succeeding Boucher as Hornets’ coach, while Jalbert is the new head coach for the Poland/Gray-New Gloucester cooperative. Although Leavitt is in Class B West and Poland/Gray-New Gloucester in Class A East, the two teams will be squaring off in their new shared home, the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn on Dec. 20.

The first day of boys’ practice starts next Monday.

Jalbert was a part-time volunteer assistant for Leavitt, his only coaching role between stepping down from heading Westbrook’s hockey program in 2010 and taking over the Poland/Gray-New Gloucester program last spring.

Jalbert graduated from St. Dom’s in 2002 and was a forward on the 2000 state championship team


He got into the coaching game at age 21, spending a year as an assistant at Lewiston. A year later and fresh out of Colby-Sawyer College, he became a head coach at Westbrook in 2007. He coached the Blue Blazes for four years before his teaching job at the high school was eliminated due to budget cuts in 2010.

Jalbert took a couple of years off from coaching to help raise his young son before helping out Leavitt on an informal basis for a year. He spent last year out of coaching but was eager to return. Poland/Gray-New Gloucester seemed like the perfect fit.

“The location works for me,” said Jalbert, 29, who teaches 8th grade health at Lewiston Middle School and lives in Oxford. “The location of it and knowing that it would make sense with my schedule, I knew I wouldn’t be driving an hour from my house to practice.”

“It’s a new start. We’ve got a new coaching staff throughout. We’ve got a new name, a new logo, a new home, new mascot,” he said.

Jalbert replaced Aaron Rand, who stepped down after six years as head coach. His addition is part of some sweeping changes to the program, which will have a new mascot and nickname, the 26ers, to reflect the stretch of road between the two schools, and a new home rink, the new Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn.

Last year, the then Patriotic Knights finished 3-14-1 and out of the playoffs after reaching the A East tournament in four of the previous six years.


But Jalbert believes the future, both short- and long-term, looks bright. The team graduated just four seniors, and the feeder system, with Poland kids climbing from the Lewiston-Auburn youth hockey and Gray-New Gloucester from the Casco Bay youth hockey systems, is strong.

“I think there’s a lot of good energy, especially at the youth level,” Jalbert said. “We’ve got pretty strong middle school numbers. Both high schools have their own youth programs with the Poland kids playing Lewiston-Auburn youth hockey and the Gray kids playing Casco Bay youth hockey.”

Jalbert plans to play an up-tempo, intense but disciplined style. The spring hiring and low numbers prevented him from getting the 26ers into a summer league, but five on-ice sessions allowed him to get acquainted with the team and map out his philosophy.

“Like anything else, it’s about depth,” he said. “We’re going to be well-conditioned so that in the second and third period we’ll have something to throw at the better programs.”

“When you have depth issues and numbers, you can’t be killing penalties all game,” he said. “That’s really going to be a focal point for us. We need to be a tough team to play against. We need to be opportunistic when we get chances, but we’ve got to take pride in doing the little things well and knowing roles and understanding that we’re going to be the underdog, but we’re not going to fold over.”

Hutchinson, 42, spent the last three seasons on Boucher’s staff, coaching a team that included his son, Tyler, a top scoring forward. A long-time youth hockey coach and middle school baseball coach, he plans to keep Boucher’s system in place and build off of it.


The Hornets will have a mix of veteran and new talent. Six freshmen will join the program, including a goalie, which could make a big impact.

“It’s something we haven’t had in the last three years. The last two years we had to teach someone how to play goal, which was tough,” he said. “We had some pretty good talent on those last two teams and we just didn’t have goaltending. I think just having a goaltender is probably going to win us a few more games than we have in the past”

The Hornets finished 4-13-1 last season under Boucher. They lost much of their scoring punch with the graduation of Tyler Hutchinson and Jake Gladu and some blue line brawn minus Devin McMahan.

But with four seniors returning, some good defensive talent and the new talent infusion that he got to see during summer league in Augusta, Hutchinson hopes the Hornets can make their first playoff appearance since Ron Rouillard’s reign.

“We’re going to have to play defensive hockey, just because we’re not as skilled as some of these other teams,” Hutchinson said. “We’re going to build from the goaltender out, play good team defense and try to capitalize on the chances we do get offensively.”

“The kids have a good foundation from two or three years in the system, and we’re really going to have to rely on that this year,” Hutchinson said.

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