In their first two seasons in Eastern Maine Class B since dropping down from Class A, the Messalonskee High School Eagles from Oakland have ruled the roost.
The only thing they don’t have in their trophy case is a state championship plaque.
This could very well be the year Mike Latendresse’s two-time regional champion Eagles add that state title plaque to the trophy case.
“They could be the best team in the state regardless of class,” said Presque Isle coach Carl Flynn.
Three games into the season, Messalonskee has already thumped defending Class A state champ Falmouth 7-2 after posting a 3-2 win over Eastern A finalist Bangor and an 8-2 victory over John Bapst of Bangor.
“They’re loaded,” said Hampden Academy coach Bill Schwarz.
The Cunningham brothers headline the posse of highly-skilled Eagles.
Right wing Chase Cunningham, the league’s Co-Player of the Year, had 34 goals and 40 assists a year ago and center Jared Cunningham had 32 & 35 as a freshman. The third member of the line, Josh Towle, is sidelined until January with an upper-body injury.
He has been replaced by Dan Condon, a transfer who was one of the leading scorers for Maranacook/Winthrop/Hall-Dale last season.
The second line of Kalib Bernatchez, Jacob Dexter and Devin Pickett also returns intact and the defense corps features seasoned veterans in senior Tyler Simpson and sophomores Dylan Burton and Sam Bell. Condon can also play defense and Brandon Nale has been an impact freshman.
Senior Ben Weeks has a lot of experience in goal.
“This may be the deepest team I’ve had,” said Latendresse.
Waterville, in its first year in B after dropping down from A, and Brewer appear to be the primary threats to Messalonskee according to coaches.
Brewer coach Dave Shedd suffered significant graduation losses including high-scoring Co-Player of the Year Spencer Valley but feels his team will “hold its own regardless of who we play.”
Brewer took a 2-0 record into Tuesday’s game against Bangor thanks to the play of talented centers Gabe Valley and Gehrig White along with wingers Dylan Severance and Zach Torrey. Tyler Davis has also shown scoring promise.
Sophomore Jack Schroder is the only seasoned defenseman but three of the eight freshmen on the roster, Trey Wood, Cam Green and Cole Bloom, have been pleasant surprises on the blue line according to Shedd. Sophomore Tyler Friel will man the nets.
Waterville beat Old Town-Orono 2-0 and had an impressive 6-6 tie with Western B power Camden Hills of Rockport. The Panthers will be led by Chris Lee, Nick Denis and Andrew Roderigue along with goalie Kaleb Kane.
Presque Isle lost former all-conference defenseman Colin McKay to Hebron Academy but Flynn has a high-powered top line featuring senior captain Tyler Seeley (95 career points) and juniors Joseph Patenaude and Alex Michaud. They have already combined for more than 20 points in the Wildcats’ 2-1 start.
Ryder Soucy, Dan Boucher and Cooper Madore provide them with a useful second line; Andrew and Mike Michaud head up the defense corps and Jillian Flynn, Carl’s daughter, is between the pipes.
“My first line is as good as anybody’s, the second line has done a good job and the Michauds are two of the top defensemen in the league,” said Flynn who is concerned about depth.
Gene Fadrigon’s John Bapst Crusaders lost to Messalonskee in the EM final and have a solid corps of returnees. They include workhorse senior defensemen Ethan Handley, Ray Hummels and Joe Archambault and a top line of Jonathan Cheff, Matthew Spear and Hunter Pate. Nathaniel Reese and Logan Cyr-Ellis team with impact freshman Tyler Wheeler to supply a good second line.
Junior Sam Lander is a first-year starter in goal and stopped four breakaways in a 4-3 win over Winslow.
The Crusaders are small and quick, according to Fadrigon, and need to focus on shot-blocking and defensive play.
Hampden Academy lost 40-plus goals with the departure of Cooper Antone and Luther Vom Eigen but Schwarz said Ryan Manning has made noteworthy strides in goal and that moving forward Mike Ward back to defense has strengthened the defense corps and given it more depth.
Riley Eastman and Rob Stowe have been reliable veteran blue-liners and Schwarz will rely on Ward and Eastman to provide offense along with center Matt Closson and winger Dylan Cray.
“We’re young and small but we can skate,” said Schwarz.
There are three new coaches as former Bangor coach Denis Collins takes over the first-year Old Town-Orono co-op team; Andy Dube takes over for Corey Lessard at Winslow and Tony Marino replaces Joel Trickey at Houlton-Hodgdon.
Collins is looking for a .500 season from his Black Bears and will rely on impressive goaltender Chase Albert, defensemen Tyler Bither, Lucas Shorette and freshman Austin Sheehan and forwards Damien Spencer, Nick Gaudet and Ethan Harris to lead his team.
“We have to generate more offense,” said Collins, who has been very pleased with the team’s attitude and eagerness to learn.
Winslow’s Dube has a “very fast first line” in Jimmy Fowler, Alex Berard and Jacob Trask and a good all-Jacob second line in Jacob Larsen, Jacob Grenier and Jacob Boudreau. Walker Thompson and yet another Jacob, Jacob Houghton, are the defensive standouts and Dube feels sophomore Andrew Beals will evolve into one of the league’s top goalies by his senior year.
Houlton-Hodgdon’s Marino will be depending a lot on goalie Chase Brewer, defensemen Gage Hunt and Brandon Malone and the line of Lucas Grant, Cam Clark and Josh Malone.
“We’re still learning and we’re improving with every game,” said Marino.