The Poland/Leavitt/Oak Hill/Gray-New Gloucester Kings hockey team is comprised of players from four different high schools. The team started practice Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — The present season started Monday, but it was hard for Kings hockey coach Joe Hutchinson to not think about the long-term potential of his program as well.

Not that Hutchinson is already throwing in the towel for the 2018-19 high school boys’ hockey season. The exact opposite, actually, saying he’s “excited” for a new season to start. But that excitement extends beyond the practices and games that will take place over the next three-plus months.

It’s more than just the season that is new for the team comprised of players from Leavitt, Gray-New Gloucester, Oak Hill and Poland Regional high schools. The roster features 12 freshmen, and another 10 sophomores. And the Kings have a new classification, dropping down to Class B in the South region after playing in Class A North for the first two years of their four-school existence.

Monday was the first day of a new direction for the program, with the Kings taking the ice for the first time this season at Norway Savings Bank Arena.

“It was pretty exciting to see all the freshmen out there,” junior Nate Marcotte said. “I mean, they are a little bit smaller than I expected, but we have a lot of them, so we should be able to work with them pretty good this year.”

Those freshmen will be a “good motivation” for the veteran players, according to senior Austin Taylor.

“This is a good time,” Hutchinson said. “Last year was an older team, and we graduated all those guys. And now we’re looking forward to the future. We’ve got some good, young kids coming up, and we’re probably going to play a few of the freshmen this year. There’s three freshmen that are really, really good. So they’re probably going to force their way on.”

Everyone — roughly 30 players — got on the ice for the first time together Monday, and the coaching staff said there was good energy.

“Blew the whistle, brought them over, and from that point on I think it was a good tempo,” Hutchinson said.

Excitement will do that, and Hutchinson said he tries to avoid his practices getting boring and stagnant. Conditioning will be the theme of the first three days of practice, but Hutchinson masks some his conditioning in the form of drills, each with a different name.

“I put names on them so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time drawing it up, doing any of that. So I can just name the drill and we go right at it,” Hutchinson said. “That’s usually my goal, is just try to get as much in — as much skating in — and kind of camouflage it so … they’re having a little bit of fun at the same time.”

Also benefiting the Kings is they didn’t need to take time for players to introduce themselves to each other. The players have been spending summer workouts together since before all four schools joined together, and seventh- and eighth-graders could participate as well.

“I think it’s definitely changed. Like three years ago … everyone kind of knew them from around the rink, but you didn’t really know people well. And now I think we all know each other well,” senior Andrew Topham said. “There’s really no difference between the schools and the way kids act. There’s no, like, sides. Everyone kind of mingles together.”

That even includes the incoming players, who like the high schools, come from four different youth programs — Casco Bay, Gladiators, Nordiques and Moose. That still hasn’t stopped chemistry from being created.

The Kings do have a new set of opponents to get acquainted to, however. The majority of their opponents this year will be new to the players, if not to Hutchinson, who coached Leavitt’s singular-entity team in Class B South before the Kings co-operative came to fruition.

Marcotte said he’s excited to see some new opponents, and for Hutchinson, the excitement is in the competitive matchups he said his team will get game in, game out.

“There’s no real weak team there, other than maybe one. But all those other teams are pretty tight. And they give all those Class A teams a good game, one through eight, so it’s going to be a battle every day,” Hutchinson said.

The Kings could have petitioned to stay in Class A, but Hutchinson said he thought being in Class B was what was best for his young team.

“We’re kind of in rebuild mode, but I don’t really see it that way because the young guys are … good hockey players,” Hutchinson said.

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Coach Hutchinson runs the first day of practice for the Poland/Leavitt/Oak Hill/Gray-New Gloucester Kings hockey team in Auburn on Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)