CONWAY — Two former Kennett High student-athletes from the Class of 2018 are playing hockey and taking an extra year between high school and college while attending Bridgton Academy in Bridgton, Maine — Colby Couture and Mackenzie Murphy, who is also playing lacrosse.

Bridgton Academy is an all-male prep school with 130 young men all on campus for a single year, most of whom are looking to improve their chances for admission to a college that will fit their academic and athletic ambitions. Almost all students are taking a 13th year of school, although a small number are completing their fourth year of high school, and will receive their high school diploma from Bridgton.

Couture, from Glen, realizes that his time at Bridgton has greatly helped him mature, advance as a hockey player, and be more prepared for college life next year. In the classroom, he fared well at Kennett, but he feels that the structure at Bridgton has immensely improved his study skills and self-discipline. With mandatory 7:30-9:30 p.m. study halls Sunday through Thursday, Couture admits, "on a night when we don't have it (mandatory study hall), it almost feel like I am missing out on a part of my day."

Academically, Couture has lifted his GPA and is set to leave Bridgton in early May with enough college credits to complete college in three and a half years or seven semesters. Additionally, the guidance and college placement offices have opened Couture to some entirely new opportunities. For hockey, the Division I American College Hockey Association of Club teams is experiencing tremendous growth. Couture has been scouted by Louisville and the University of Mississippi, two DI schools on his college choice list that he never imagined before. LeMoyne (Syracuse, NY) is another ACHA club, and possible college destination, against whom Couture and the Wolverines will play next month.

Bridgton hockey travels to Canada, Lake Placid and Syracuse, N.Y., which have all been fun, educational and eye-opening ventures for Couture. On the ice, the left-winger has earned regular time between the second or third line, and he is the first man over the boards for the Wolverines top penalty kill unit.

As an Eagle, a 100-point scorer and first line player, Couture has recognized the need to fill a role fitting his strengths in the system at Bridgton. He notes that he feels extremely well prepared for this level of play after his Kennett experience. “(Kennett High) Coach (Michael) Lane had a system and we had plays, regular conditioning workouts,". . . opportunities which several current Wolverine teammates report were absent in their high school programs. Couture admits that he plays to his strengths: "I'll go into the corners and dig out pucks and create havoc."

As a Wolverine, against much faster, more skillful opponents than at NHIAA Division III of Kennett years, Couture notes, "I have to put in extra effort and determination and to find the right angles," to gain an edge.

Socially, after a brief adjustment time of minor homesickness, Couture has embraced the Bridgton experience. "I've met guys who will be among my best friends for life," including one roommate from Florida who is a newbie to winters in the Northeast. Another fond, yet challenging memory, is of the September "Hell Day" of hockey team conditioning led by an ex-Marine Seal. After 4:30 a.m. wake-up, the hockey players were engaged in non-stop workouts, including about 25 miles of running, mostly carrying their hockey equipment, 600 situps, 600 pushups, and other assorted tortures which ran straight through to 9 p.m. Not surprisingly, Couture reports, "I have lost 20 pounds and feel the fittest in my entire life."

For Mackenzie Murphy of North Conway, the ambition to play college hockey crystallized during his freshman year at Kennett. Recognizing that many college hockey players take at least one year between high school and college, and some take as many as two or three years to mature and strengthen their bodies and improve their game, Murphy knew that he wanted at least one year between high school graduation before starting college. At the start of his 2017 senior year, Murphy was well into weighing his options. While playing junior hockey had some appeal, Murphy, an excellent student, also wanted to keep up his academic advancement. Following an October visit to the Bridgton campus which entailed getting stuck in Fryeburg Fair traffic, Murphy knew that Bridgton was the place for him.

"The campus just had a good feel to it. With all the guys on campus engaged in sports, living together in dorms and attending classes, you pretty much know everyone; it's like a school of 130 teammates all experiencing the same thing."

Murphy professes that the structure of Academy life suits his personality. "I've always been pretty organized," said the Wolverines dual-sports athlete. Murphy actually played a third sport, soccer, for the Kennett Eagles. Murphy's schedule includes four classes from 8 a.m.-noon, then afternoons filled with team practices, meetings, lifting sessions or games and school projects.

Murphy has thrived in the Bridgton environment. First semester courses taken on campus in English, calculus, digital media and U. S. history, but connected with St. Joseph's (ME) College, University of Southern Maine, and Plymouth State University, has Murphy set up to enter college next fall with four college credits already earned.

Athletically, the hockey team was on the ice as soon as classes began in early September, There was some adjustment to new Coach Rod Simmons, who replaced the prior coach who had recruited Murphy to Bridgton. But the veteran hockey man has proved to be extremely knowledgeable, well connected in the hockey community and a great asset for players looking to get noticed and make contacts for their next level of play.

With a 100 percent new group of players, the Wolverines got off to a difficult start record-wise. Their 50 game schedule is filled with strong opponents. An early season tournament in Greater Boston saw 4-0 and 5-0 defeats to talented Eastern Hockey League teams like Walpole Express, who regularly place players in college Division III and even DI programs. For Murphy and the Wolverines, the scorelines did not matter so much as the opportunity to be scouted, filmed and evaluated by myriad college coaches.

Since the Thanksgiving break, the hockey team has been strengthened by the addition of several dual-sport fall athletes, and has been playing around .500 hockey of late, with opponents from the Maine Independent School league (Kent's Hill, Hebron and North Yarmouth Academy), Canadian teams from Stanstead and Academie-Saint Louis, and elite U18 club teams.

For defenseman Murphy, he earned the captain's "C" on his jersey and a spot on the first defense pairing. Early in the season he handled extensive penalty killing duties but set his sights on moving up to the first power-play unit. In a recent game at Bridgton's Chalmers Ice Arena, Murphy capitalized in his new role quarterbacking that unit, picking up a beautiful assist on a one-touch pass to an open wingman who again one-timed a shot from close in the right faceoff circle to tie the score against traditional rival Hebron Academy.

Off the ice and outside the classroom, Murphy has been able to carry on his passion for utilizing his multi-media skills and being totally engaged in his school community. With the change in hockey coaches, Murphy picked up the responsibility of managing the hockey team's social media presence on Instagram and Twitter, a role which is crucial to attracting next year's recruits and continued support of alumni. Additionally, Murphy and a teammate serve as emcees for a portion of the Monday morning weekly all-school "chapel," or assembly, where they interview a variety of athletes from all sports teams to give updates on the athletic happenings on campus.

Sports won't stop for Murphy with March break, as he will move onto the lacrosse team, with whom he already played one fall tournament as a long-stick defender during a hockey off weekend.

With so many interests, skills and opportunities, Murphy plans to move on to college next fall, as he says, "to get on with my life." Division II schools Assumption College, Southern New Hampshire University, Saint Michael's College and Stonehill are all on Murphy's radar for hockey, as well as Division I club hockey at Syracuse or Villanova. Should things not work out in hockey, Division III Nichols College lacrosse coach has shown great interest in Murphy. While a rarity at the college level, Murphy even speculated that a two-sport collegian, perhaps one at club level and one at a varsity level, could be in his future. Whatever the case, Murphy is pleased with his year at Bridgton, the opportunities it is opening for him and the friendships he has made there.

The hockey Wolverines have four remaining home games on Feb. 6, 13, 16 and 17. Veteran Valley hockey supporters may want to check out the local ex-Eagles; if you make the 40-minute trek, dress warmly. Chalmers Ice Arena tends to be colder than our local Ham Arena!

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