BRUNSWICK — Austin Fournier needs to wake up by 3 a.m.

“I set (the alarm) early enough so I can hit snooze twice,” said Fournier, a junior at Lisbon High School. “I have to get four other guys.”

He’ll get in the car and make his rounds, picking up drowsy teammates on the combined Mt. Ararat/Lisbon boys’ ice hockey team. They head to Bowdoin College’s Watson Arena, about 14 miles away, arriving early enough to stretch and put on their gear.

Practice begins at 4:55.

Afterward, players shower, dress and get ready for school.

“It’s a long, long day,” Fournier said.

Early hockey practices have been the norm for decades in southern Maine, where a shortage of rinks forces many school administrators to scramble to find available ice time. Games start as late as 8:30 on school nights.

And the demand for ice time keeps growing. Girls’ hockey became an official high school sport in Maine seven years ago, adding to the squeeze. Junior varsity and middle school teams also vie for slots on the schedule, along with youth programs.

There may be relief on the horizon. Efforts are underway in Scarborough and Brunswick to build ice rinks to complement existing rinks in a handful of communities, including Biddeford, Falmouth, Portland, Saco and Yarmouth.

But for now, players sleep when they can, in between carrying their hockey bags and book packs. And high school athletic directors deal with the headache of finding available sites for practices and games.

“I spend more time on the ice hockey schedule than on any other,” said Scarborough High athletic director Mike LeGage.

Scarborough has one of the area’s strongest hockey programs, fielding competitive boys’ varsity and junior varsity teams, and a girls’ team that won the state championship last year.

Yet the Red Storm do not have an official home rink, playing “home games” as far away as Auburn.

“We’ve been nomads,” LeGage said. “We take what we can get.”

PROJECTS IN PLANNING STAGES

LeGage’s challenges would be eased with a rink in Scarborough.

“We’re right on the verge of this happening,” he said.

A nonprofit group, Friends of Scarborough Hockey, is working with the Town Council to use municipal-owned land near the high school for a privately financed $5.5 million arena. The project is still in the planning stages.

Meanwhile, in Brunswick, a group called Community Ice has been working for the past four years to build a rink.

“We have our land,” said Bill Bodwell, one of the leaders of Community Ice, as well as the Brunswick High boys’ hockey coach. “We have information put together – construction costs, potential renters, a business plan. Our next step is to do a planning study.”

Bodwell, who previously coached the Brunswick girls, sees the need for a rink firsthand. The school’s teams practice at Bowdoin College.

Bowdoin’s Watson Arena – along with arenas at the University of Southern Maine and the University of New England – offer ice time to high schools. But the colleges have their own teams and programs using the facilities.

Bowdoin offers two morning slots for high schools to practice – at 4:55 and 6:10 a.m. The Mt. Ararat/Lisbon boys’ team cannot take the 6:10 slot because the Lisbon students would not make it to school on time.

“We have four varsity high school programs trying to use limited ice,” said Bodwell, referring to the Brunswick and Mt. Ararat boys’ and girls’ teams. The Mt. Ararat girls’ team began two years ago – another team that needed to elbow its way into the schedule.

The Brunswick and Mt. Ararat teams do not always practice in the morning. Bodwell often schedules a Friday night practice in Auburn, along with off-ice workouts for his team. When Bowdoin’s teams are on the road – or when the college is on break – afternoon ice times open up.

Yarmouth High has boys’ varsity and junior varsity teams, as well as a girls’ team that includes players from Freeport and Gray-New Gloucester high schools.

All of Yarmouth’s practices are in the morning, starting as early as 4:45.

While the Clippers have use of the nearby Travis Roy Ice Arena at North Yarmouth Academy, NYA teams and youth hockey take up the afternoon and early evening slots.

The scarcity of ice time also can create competitive imbalance. Some high schools have almost daily ice access, such as Falmouth and Greely (at Falmouth’s Family Ice Center), Biddeford and Thornton Academy (at Biddeford Ice Arena) and Cheverus (at Portland Ice Arena).

“The big dogs are on the ice every day, six times a week, whether they’re playing games or not,” said Mt. Ararat boys’ coach Mike Bishop. “Teams with regular ice practice 50-55 times a year. We practice 30-35 times.”

‘THE KIDS WERE … PRETTY WORN OUT’

In a perfect world, there would be no early practices.

“I talk to teachers, ask for feedback (about early practices),” Bishop said. “They say the kids are dragging. It’s not a good thing.”

Occasionally, Bishop will turn down an early morning ice time if his team is playing the night before (which Yarmouth does, as well).

Tyler O’Connor, a senior hockey player at Mt. Ararat, said he sometimes fights to stay awake in school. And he has to be attentive, especially when his last-period class is advanced-placement statistics.

“That’s a tough one,” O’Connor said. “But I manage to get through it.”

Compared to Lisbon High’s Fournier, O’Connor almost gets to sleep in – arising at 3:45 a.m. in his Bowdoinham home.

“It’s tough but it’s worth it,” he said.

How so?

“It’s hockey,” O’Connor said. “And I love hockey.”

Scarborough used to schedule early practices, but no longer.

“The kids were going to school pretty worn out,” LeGage said.

In order to skate only in the afternoon and evening, Scarborough takes advantage of available slots at several arenas: the MHG Ice Centre in Saco, Cross Insurance Arena in Portland and occasional trips to the USM Ice Arena in Gorham and the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn.

The USM Ice Arena used to be Scarborough’s home rink, but “they’re really maxed out,” LeGage said.

Besides its own college teams, USM is home to four boys’ varsity teams – Gorham, Windham, Westbrook and the combined Bonny Eagle/Massabesic/Old Orchard Beach squad – and one girls’ varsity team, Gorham/Bonny Eagle. Not everyone gets ice time every day.

“We work together to make sure it’s equitable,” said Bonny Eagle athletic director Kyle Hudson.

USM offers availability at 5:30 a.m., along with 2:40 p.m., 3:50 p.m. and 9:10 p.m.

Windham High often takes the 5:30 a.m. slot. Eagles athletic director Rich Drummond said the school does not offer much funding for hockey and the early morning time has the best rate. He said the players are used to it.

“It’s almost part of the culture,” Drummond said.

Indeed, if the alternative is no ice, hockey players will choose to lace on the skates early. And that means many parents are warming up those cars even earlier. At a recent Mt. Ararat morning boys’ practice at Bowdoin, David Olyphant leaned against a rail, watching his son Tristan, a sophomore, skating through drills.

“What else was I going to do at 3:30 in the morning?” he quipped.