Meghan Delahanty (right) works to keep the puck from Paige Oakes during a practice session at the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer on June 30, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

When Hampden Academy junior Meghan Delahanty was playing youth hockey, she never thought playing on a high school girls hockey team would be a reality for her.

But after spending her first two high school seasons playing for the Hampden Academy boys team, she is receiving that opportunity this year with the Penobscot Pioneers.

The first all-girls co-operative high school team in eastern Maine will open the season on Nov. 25 when it hosts Greely High School of Cumberland Center at the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer. Game time is 4:40 p.m.

The Penobscot Pioneers will have their first scrimmage on the road against York on Saturday at noon.

Delahanty likes the fact that this team will be trend-setters as potentially the first of many Pioneer teams to follow. Girls from the area will have the opportunity to play on a co-op team as long as there are enough interested players.

“When we were out here for pictures, the younger girls (on a youth team) were out on the ice and they were all waving at us. It felt really good because they were recognizing that they are going to have this opportunity in the future,” said Delahanty, who is a forward.

“When I was that age, I never envisioned that I would be playing on a girls team in high school.”

It’s a much better environment than playing on a boys team, Delahanty said, and it’s easier to get along with your teammates.

“Fortunately for me, when I was playing with Hampden, I had two others playing with me last year so I had a bond with a few of my teammates,” she added. “But I just couldn’t really connect with the guys.”

The team began practice more than a week ago and has 17 skaters and two goalies from  seven schools: Bangor, Brewer, Hampden Academy, Hermon, John Bapst of Bangor, Old Town and Orono. Every school has at least one player on the roster.

“I’m pretty excited to have this chance,” said junior defenseman Hannah Marsh from Old Town. “I’ve never been on a girls team before. It’s really exciting to be playing with girls my age.”

Brewer’s Jordin Williams played for the eight-school co-op girls team in central Maine a year ago based at the Maine Ice Vault in Hallowell.

That meant a lengthy commute on a regular basis.

“We definitely have a lot more time on our hands and it’s easier for Jordin to get her homework done, that’s for sure,” said Jodie Williams, Jordin’s mother, of no longer having to make the long drive. “But that team was so much fun. They made the drive worth it.”

Jordin Williams, a sophomore, said she loved playing on that co-op team and will miss the rides.

But she also likes her new team.

“We’re doing a really good job. We are going to be good,” Jordinsaid.

Bill Boardman, her coach with the Winslow, Gardiner, Cony, Lawrence, Messalonskee, Maranacook, Erskine Academy and Mt. Blue co-op team, said it will be great for the Bangor area girls to have their own team but that he will miss Williams.

“She is a phenomenal player and a great kid. She was a great leader, she is very skilled and she was a great teammate,” said Boardman. “She will be a great player to build their program around.”

Abbie Derosier, a freshman goalie from Orono, said the girls will have more opportunities than they would on a boys team.

“I’ve played on boys teams my whole life and I spent most of my time sitting on the bench,” Derosier said. “Even if I was the better goalie on my boys team, the boys would never accept me or respect me.”

Most of the girls on the team know each other from playing on various youth teams and attending ice hockey clinics together over the years.

The players said they like head coach Michael Keim and his staff and the team is bonding together well.

The coaching staff also includes Jarrod Williams, Kim Shelly, Kenna Farrey and Meghan MacDonald.

Keim said things have been going great and that he will also have a junior varsity team so that all players will have an opportunity to play and develop their skills.

“The ladies are hustling. We are developing two goalies, about five defensemen and the rest as forwards. They are giving all they have,” Keim said.

“We are trying to develop a gas tank for the players because our strategy is if we develop three lines and five defensemen and a competitive goalie tandem, we can beat anybody if we apply the right mindset.”