ORONO, Maine — Brewer High School’s two-year reign as Eastern Maine Class B hockey champion came to an end Tuesday night.
Senior goalie Nate DelGiudice turned in a spectacular 35-save performance and senior right wing Sam Dexter scored a pair of goals as the opportunistic Messalonskee High School Eagles built a 4-0 lead and went on to notch a 5-2 victory at Alfond Arena.
Second seed Messalonskee, which dropped down to Class B from Class A this season, was playing in its first regional hockey championship game and improved to 18-3. Messalonskee advanced to Saturday’s state final in Lewiston against the Greely-York winner from Wednesday night’s Western Maine final.
Top-seeded Brewer had beaten No. 2 Messalonskee twice during the regular season.
Brewer had a 12-game winning streak snapped and wound up at 18-2.
“(DelGiudice) was on fire tonight,” said Brewer senior left wing and tri-captain Jacob Chapman. “And they did a very good job (in front of him). They’re a very good team.”
“This was one of our best games of the season,” said DelGiudice. “We played outstanding defensively and put the puck in when we got our chances.”
DelGiudice downplayed his performance.
“I played a solid game. I did what I needed to do to win,” he said. “I felt good all day.”
“He won the game for them,” said Brewer junior left wing Spencer Valley who also credited Dexter with playing a major role in the victory.
“We won the small battles we needed to win and we did a good job clearing the puck out after the first shot. We kept them to the outside. We didn’t give them point-blank shots from the middle of the ice,” said senior defenseman Travis St. Pierre, who turned in an outstanding performance while anchoring the defense corps.
Dexter scored his goals 8:47 apart in the second period to extend the lead to 3-0 after linemate Chase Cunningham had scored in the first period.
Corey Foye made it 4-0 with just 1:23 left in the second period but, soon after Brewer goalie Adam Cossette stopped a Cunningham breakaway, Brewer grabbed a lifeline when Joey Fowler scored with four-tenths of a second left in the period.
Cunningham scored the only goal of the first period against the run of play off assists from linemates James Varney and Dexter.
Varney and Dexter got off a pair of backhanders that were kicked out by Brewer goalie Adam Cossette but Dexter’s rebound spilled over to the unattended Cunningham at the edge of the crease and he swept it under Cossette.
Dexter’s first goal came 2:07 into the second period when he took a pass from Kalib Bernatchez, busted down the right wing and took a 35-foot wrist shot that sailed past Cossette’s glove and into the short-side corner.
“It was a two-on-one and I was expecting a pass across,” said Cossette.
DelGiudice preserved the two-goal lead by thwarting Jacob Chapman and Alec Wortman later in the period.
Chapman stick-handled out of the corner to DelGiudice’s left into a good shooting position between the face-off dots only to have DelGiudice come out and cut down his angle and stop the shot with his chest.
“There was a big scrum so he had nowhere to go so I came out and cut down the angle,” said DelGiudice.
DelGiudice thwarted Wortman on a two-on-one as he read a cross-ice pass from Chapman perfectly and closed his pads to kick out Wortman’s one-timer.
Dexter made it 3-0 when he drove the net unchecked and one-timed a Cunningham pass from behind the net through the legs of Cossette from the left circle with 4:06 left in the period.
Foye expanded the lead when his wrist shot from the right point off a Varney faceoff win appeared to hit a Brewer stick and beat Cossette to the glove side.
“It bounced all around and I didn’t pick it up until the last three feet,” said Cossette.
Brewer finally scored on DelGiudice when Fowler raced to the net front and directed the puck past DelGiudice from the doorstep off a pass from Spencer Valley.
There had been a faceoff in the Brewer zone with nine seconds left but the Witches were able to chip the puck out of the zone and Valley broke down the left wing before slipping the puck across to Fowler.
Brewer had a full two-minute, two-man advantage midway through the third period but never tested DelGiudice as the Messalonskee penalty-killers did a nice job blocking shots and Brewer mishandled the puck on a couple of occasions and passed up shots .
Spencer Valley scored from a scramble with 2:33 left to pull Brewer within 4-2 but St. Pierre iced it with an empty-net goal.
“They outplayed us,” said Brewer senior defenseman and tri-captain Mike Shedd. “They skated hard. They came to play. They’re a great team. They deserved to win. And the puck didn’t bounce our way tonight.”
DelGiudice was the story of the first period as he kicked out all 18 shots he faced including a handful of gems.
Even though the Witches had a decided edge in offensive zone possession, the Eagles were dangerous on the counter-attack and generated a couple of odd-man rushes.
The Witches had a territorial edge in the second period but coach Mike Latendresse’s Eagles were opportunistic. Messalonskee did an excellent job protecting the lead in the third period.
Cossette finished with 18 saves.