WINSLOW — For two periods Saturday night, the Messalonskee boys’ hockey team got a little more than it hoped for and a lot more than expected against upstart John Bapst in an Eastern Class B semifinal at Sukee Arena.
Then the third period rolled around and so, too, did the Eagles’ offense.
Top-seeded Messalonskee broke open a close game with four straight goals to fend off No. 5 John Bapst, 7-2.
Jared Cunningham scored four goals and his brother, Chase, had four assists as the Eagles (19-0) survived a scare from the Crusaders (10-10), who trailed just 2-1 after two periods.
Messalonskee will play No. 2 Presque Isle (13-5-1) in the regional final Tuesday night at the University of Maine.
Throughout much of the season, Messalonskee grew accustomed to putting up big numbers against whomever and wherever.
The two-time defending Eastern Maine champs coasted through the regular season, except for a few games, and set their sights on capturing the program’s first state title.
The Eagles found out Saturday that road to glory can take a few unexpected twists and turns.
They led just 2-1 before Jared Cunningham and Jake Dexter scored 16 seconds apart early in the third, easing the tension in the building.
Cunningham scored his fourth goal of the game with under six minutes left to push the lead to 6-1.
Messalonskee led 2-0 after the first period, but John Bapst freshman forward Tyler Wheeler cut the deficit in half just five minutes into the second when he ripped a shot past goalie Ben Weeks from deep inside the left circle.
The goal rejuvenated the Crusaders, who had ample opportunities to pull even in the second.
Messalonskee jumped out to a 1-0 lead about three minutes into the game on Cunningham’s first goal. The sophomore forward curled out to the left circle from behind the net and took a shot that beat goalie Sam Lander low to the glove side.
Cunningham made it 2-0 with 2:41 left in the period when he converted a nice pass from his brother. Chase Cunningham skated into the offensive zone down the left side and crossed the puck to Jared, who one-timed it into an opening on the short side.
In between the goals, John Bapst had a few good scoring opportunities. The Crusaders had three power plays, including 40 seconds of five-on-three time.
However, Weeks and the aggressive Messalonskee defense kept the Crusaders scoreless.