BREWER, Maine — The defending Eastern Maine Class B champion Messalonskee High School Eagles of Oakland knew the Brewer Witches were undermanned Wednesday night and, like the quality hockey team they are, they took advantage.
Freshman center Jared Cunningham had a pair of goals and his junior brother and linemate Chase Cunningham contributed a goal and two assists as Messalonskee of Oakland improved to 12-2 with a comfortable 5-1 victory over the Witches in a battle of the top two teams in Eastern Maine Class B.
Messalonskee, which swept the season series, moved a step closer to clinching the top seed and earning a first-round bye for the playoffs. The Eagles beat Brewer 7-6 on Jan. 2.
Brewer, which was without senior center and leading scorer Spencer Valley (flu) and his cousin, workhorse senior defenseman Brody Valley (mononucleosis), fell to 10-4.
The Valleys are two of the tri-captains.
“We weren’t playing against their top team, so it was a totally different game,” said Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse. “But I thought we worked well. We pressured well, we controlled the puck well and controlled the game overall.”
He did see areas to work on.
“I was a little disappointed with the way we played in the third period. They outworked us at times and we didn’t make the right decisions but, with that being said, it was a win and a lot of [Heal] points,” added Latendresse.
The line of the Cunninghams with junior left wing Josh Towle combined for three goals and four assists, as Towle had two assists.
Brewer senior defenseman Jake Caron, the other tri-captain, said that line is difficult to play against.
“They’re creative, they know what to do with the puck and they know where each other is going to be. It’s a very well put-together line,” said Caron.
Caron didn’t want to offer excuses but did admit that not having Spencer Valley made a significant difference.
“He’s our team when it comes to scoring,” said Caron.
Right wing Chase Cunningham and freshman defenseman Dylan Burton scored early first-period goals 2:38 apart to stake the Eagles to a lead they would never relinquish.
Kalib Bernatchez expanded the lead with the only goal of the middle period before Jared Cunningham scored his goals 3:15 apart in the third period.
Andrew Collins ruined Ben Weeks’ shutout bid with 3:14 left on the power play.
Chase Cunningham opened the scoring 3:03 into the game when he circled the net and backhanded a Towle rebound into the short side between Brewer goalie Patrick Spaulding’s left skate and the post.
“The puck was just sitting there and I backhanded it in,” said Cunningham.
Burton scored his first career goal with a screened snap shot from the midpoint.
“It hit one of their guys’ sticks and trickled in five-hole,” said Burton.
“I never saw it. All I saw was bodies, bodies, bodies,” said Spaulding.
The Eagles swarmed the Brewer net in the second period, but Spaulding was terrific, as he made 11 saves in the first six minutes of the period.
Bernatchez finally broke through with 4:09 remaining when he took a precise diagonal cross-ice pass from the corner by Chase Cunningham, took a stride and beat Spaulding with a rising wrister into the short side past his blocker.
“I had just come off the bench,” said Bernatchez. “Chase made a nice pass, I looked up and noticed [Spaulding’s] blocker was a little low. I caught the pass, hesitated a second and, luckily, I roofed it.”
Spaulding said Bernatchez “had all day to shoot and it was a really well-placed shot on his part. I tried to stand my ground and hoped he would hit me.”
Latendresse thought that was the game’s most important goal.
“There’s a big difference between 3-0 and 2-1 [if Brewer had scored the next goal],” said Latendresse.
“That was the turning point,” agreed Caron. “That killed our spirits a little bit.”
Jared Cunningham made it 4-0 at the 5:14 mark of the third period when he swatted a Towle rebound out of the air past Spaulding and he scored again by tucking home brother Chase’s cross-crease pass at the far post.
Weeks finished with 27 saves, while Spaulding wound up with 32 and faced a lot more high-quality chances.
“[Spaulding] played extremely well. He made a lot of big saves,” said Latendresse.