ORONO — The Messalonskee High School Eagles will get another crack at a state Class B hockey championship.
Junior left wing Chase Cunningham scored three goals, including two shorthanded, and dished out two assists as the Eagles beat first-time regional finalist John Bapst of Bangor 7-2 in the Eastern Maine final at Alfond Arena on Tuesday night.
Coach Mike Latendresse’s 18-2 Eagles of Oakland will take on the winner of Wednesday night’s Western Maine final between Camden Hills and defending state champ Greely of Cumberland Center in Saturday’s 1 p.m. state final at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
Greely beat Messalonskee 6-2 in last year’s state championship game. It was Massssalonskee’s first season in Class B after moving down from Class A.
John Bapst of Bangor ended its season at 14-6-1.
First-period goals by Chase Cunningham and his freshman brother and linemate Jared Cunningham and senior center Corey Foye’s second-period goal supplied the Eagles with a 3-0 lead.
Seth Yachanin gave the Crusaders some life with a goal 41 seconds into the third period, but Chase Cunningham’s shorthanded breakaway at the 4:09 mark swung the momentum back to the Eagles and he cemented the win by completing his hat trick 32 seconds later.
Dylan Burton added a power-play goal with 4:32 left and Josh Towle, the other member of the Cunningham line, made it 7-1 before Alex LaFrance scored for the Crusaders.
Messalonskee outshot John Bapst 27-15.
“This was a great win,” said Latendresse. “We played very well. This was one of our better games of the year. Any time you give up 15 shots in a game like this it tells me you’re doing something right. And we were opportunistic.”
Chase Cunningham, who entered the game with a team-high 69 points on 31 goals and 38 assists, said he never expected to have a five-point night.
“But I’ll take it. It was a good win. We had a good transition game tonight,” said Cunningham.
“Big-time players come up big in big games,” said John Bapst senior defenseman Kurt Massey.
Yachanin made things interesting in the third period when he deflected Massey’s wrister from the point back against the grain and into the short-side corner.
But Chase Cunningham answered when he blocked Massey’s shot at the midpoint and broke in alone before beating John Bapst goalie Jaron Leonard.
“I was trying to get off a one-timer and it him in the shin,” said Massey.
Massey hustled back but Cunningham was able to get enough separation to slice in alone.
“[A Bapst player] was off to my side. I cut in on the backhand and I think I put it five-hole,” said Cunningham. “Whenever they had momentum, we kept coming back.”
Leonard said Cunningham “made a quick [fake]” before getting across to the far post and tucking it in a small space between his right skate and the post.”
Seconds later, Cunningham scampered down the right wing after Bapst turned the puck over at the blue line and fired a blast from the right circle past Leonard.
“I went short-side high,” said Cunningham.
Burton scored from a similar spot at the 10:28 mark before Towle converted a breakaway.
LaFrance converted a Massey assist from the low slot to cap the scoring.
Chase Cunningham opened the scoring 3:43 into the game while the Eagles were shorthanded.
He broke into the offensive zone in a one-on-one with John Bapst defenseman Ray Hummels.
Hummels bumped him, but Cunningham muscled his way through the check to free himself and sliced from right to left across the low slot.
Leonard tried to pokecheck the puck, but Cunningham pulled it around him and deposited a backhander inside the far post.
Jared Cunningham expanded the lead at the 9:10 mark by finishing off a pretty passing sequence involving his brother and Towle.
Towle carried the puck down the left wing and, while on one knee, slipped the puck to Chase Cunningham in the middle of the slot. Cunningham quickly directed it over to his brother at the far post for a tap-in.
John Bapst’s leading scorer, 28-goal producer Jake Fletcher, had a couple of promising chances early in the second period, but junior goalie Ben Weeks made a pair of important saves to preserve the 2-0 lead.
Leonard kept his team within two with four saves during a four-minute stretch in the middle period off the top line.
But Foye extended the lead when Chase Cunningham curled out of the corner and fed him in the right circle for a wrister that beat Leonard to the glove-side high with 24.4 seconds left in the period.
“That third goal was a backbreaker,” said John Bapst coach Gene Fadrigon, who also felt the fourth goal was pivotal.
“We didn’t play our best game tonight. It was our first time in a final and the guys were tight. They couldn’t keep the puck in the [offensive] zone,” said Fadrigon. “But we’re very proud of the team [and what they accomplished].”
Weeks finished with 13 saves and Leonard wound up with 20.