His first season at the helm of the Winslow/Gardiner girls hockey team.

Alan Veilleux led the Black Tigers to the most wins and the deepest playoff run in the two-year history of the cooperative team. For his efforts, he has been named the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel Hockey Coach of the Year.

The Black Tigers finished with 12 wins and an appearance in the North region semifinals.

“He really pushed us to the next level,” Winslow/Gardiner senior Evelyn Hinkley said. “He led us in the right direction. He really changed the team and put a little fire under us.”

Where Chris Downing had been at the helm in 2016-17 and charged with bringing two teams together — including a Winslow contingent fielding girls hockey already — Veilleux had visions of taking the team to the next level.

That level meant becoming more than just happy to win some games and make a first playoff appearance, as Winslow/Gardiner had done in its first season.

“The way we were going to have success was to be a team out there,” Veilleux said. “I can’t coach Gardiner. I cant’t coach Winslow. I have to coach the Black Tigers.”

He did just that, rolling three lines and four defensemen regularly throughout the course of the regular season and on into the playoffs. Perhaps the greatest testament to Veilleux’s coaching came in the regional semifinals against powerhouse Lewiston/Monmouth/Oak Hill.

The Blue Devils had beaten the Black Tigers soundly on two previous occasions — 11-0 in the regular season and 7-0 in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship game — but Winslow/Gardiner found itself with in a goal of Lewiston early in the third period of the regional semifinals.

Though the Black Tigers would fall 3-1, the leap forward for the program was noticeable.

“It wasn’t Xs and Os at all,” Veilleux said. “Over the years, I’ve been a very intense coach. I have mellowed out over the years, and you learn you can win a lot of games with heart over talent. That last game, we had nothing to lose.”

Veilleux feels the responsibility of trying to build girls hockey in Maine as a varsity sport, something he believes all of the sport’s coaches take a role in.

“We’re trying to build girls hockey. I think all the teams are doing the same thing,” he said. “We’re trying to put a good product on the ice. If we can show that with the girls we have, and if they have positive experience, it’s going to spread to other girls in high school and to younger girls, too. With more fun comes a positive attitude, and a positive attitude brings a lot of success.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC