LEWISTON, Maine — The difference between the Messalonskee Eagles and the rest of the state’s Class B ice hockey world is pretty basic — too much firepower.
Brothers Jared Cunningham and Chase Cunningham scored second-period goals to snap a 1-1 stalemate and Messalonskee went on to add three late goals to pull away from Gorham 6-1 in Saturday’s state championship match at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
The win capped off a winter of dominance by the 21-0 Eagles, who broke through to win their first state title in the sport after reaching the final each of the previous two seasons only to return home as runners-up.
“This is the first day, today, that I used the word undefeated,” said 12th-year Messalonskee head coach Mike Latendresse of the season. “And that’s special; 21-0 is pretty special.”
Gorham, making its first trip to the state final, finished with a 17-4 record.
“I wanted us to be able to wear them down more and be able to play in the offensive end more, but that didn’t happen,” said sixth-year Gorham coach John Portwine. “Messalonskee’s a great team, they controlled the puck. They’re 21-0 for a reason.”
Eight different Messalonskee players had at least an assist or a goal, led by senior forward Dan Condon’s two goals and an assist. Chase Cunningham, Jared Cunningham and Dylan Burton each added a goal and two assists, while Josh Towle had a goal, Jake Dexter had two assists and Brandon Nale and Kalib Bernatchez had one assist each in front of senior goalie Ben Weeks, who made 23 saves.
“It feels amazing,” said Chase Cunningham, one of the five seniors on the Messalonskee roster. “To work hard the past three years and finally get it just feels great,”
Senior goalie Justin Broy kept Gorham in contention through the midpoint of the match and finished with 25 saves, while Tucker Buteau scored a first-period goal for the Rams.
Much as it did with a five-goal blitz midway through its victory over Presque Isle in Tuesday’s Eastern Maine final, Messalonskee gained control of the state title game during the second period — this time thanks in great part to some individual brilliance by the Cunningham brothers.
The Eagles nearly took the lead in the opening minute of the period when senior Chase Cunningham found Towle alone in front of the net, only to have Broy deny the bid by covering the short side with his blocker pad.
But a spectacular play by younger brother Jared Cunningham wouldn’t be denied four minutes later.
The sophomore center gained control of the puck along the left boards near center ice, carried it in and put it through the legs of a Gorham defender before regaining possession. Cunningham then faked out Broy at the near side of the net before forehanding the puck into the open far side to give Messalonskee a 2-1 lead at 5:19 of the period.
“I don’t even know what was going through my mind,” he said. “I was just going to the net hard and he came out and played me so I went to the right side and buried it.
“I think that started the momentum for us and we just built on that goal.”
Chase Cunningham made it 3-1 with an unassisted goal four minutes later.
The puck was played by Messalonskee into its offensive end along the right boards, and when two Gorham players collided while tracking down the puck, Cunningham swooped in to gain possession and skated in front of the net, faking a shot toward the near post before backhanding the puck past Broy’s stick side.
Messalonskee had just a 21-16 shots advantage through two periods — but possessed all the momentum.
“I told them the longer we could hang with them, the longer we could ride out the storm, the more frustrated they’d get and the more they’d make mistakes,” said Portwine. “But something changed in that second period, I don’t think we executed very well on our forecheck and they started to control the offensive end. They’re very good in transition through the neutral zone.”
Condon scored his first goal during a four-on-four sequence early in the final period, tipping the rebound of a shot wide of the left post by Burton past Broy’s stick side to make it 4-1 at 2:43.
Chase Cunningham fed Condon the puck between the circles during a Messalonskee power play three minutes later, and Condon quickly redirected it into the net to increase the margin to four goals, and Towle made it 6-1 with another power-play goal at 9:27.
Messalonskee struck first at 12:01 of the opening period when Burton converted on a wrist shot from along the blue line.
Gorham answered 46 seconds later with a quick three-man rush capped off when Buteau stuffed the puck past Weeks from the left of the cage.