LEWISTON — Chase Cunningham’s hockey career ended Saturday. So did Messalonskee’s state title drought.
The senior forward had a goal and two assists and led a relentless Eagles attack in a 6-1 victory over Gorham in the Class B championship game at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
Messalonskee, the state runner-up the past two seasons, finished 21-0. Cunningham ended the season with 82 points, a masterful player on a perfect team.
“We were just confident coming in,” Cunningham said, a far cry from the team that fell 6-2 to Greely two years ago in the championship game. “The seniors went out the right way. I couldn’t be happier with that. I think I’m going to hang them up. It’s just a lot of work. I’ll go out on top and stay on top.”
Messalonskee, which lost 3-0 to Greely last year, put Gorham on its heels and kept the Rams there for the final 30 minutes. Gorham (17-4) hadn’t allowed more than three goals in a game. The Eagles doubled that total and could have reached double digits if not for some superb saves by Gorham goaltender Justin Broy.
“I was hoping to run them down so they’d just run two lines, but those two lines never got tired,” Gorham Coach Jon Portwine said.
“I don’t think we were as physical as we could have been. Eventually, that offense is going to catch up to you, and it did. … We faced a great team today. A great team beat us.”
Messalonskee’s perfect season began with an offseason conditioning program consisting of plyometrics. There was a determination to not come up short a third consecutive season, said senior forward Dan Condon, who scored two goals Saturday.
“We knew talent wasn’t going to carry us. We had to put the work in,” Condon said.
The exercise program gave the Eagles the needed endurance and leg strength to wear down opponents, Jared Cunningham said. It was a goal by the sophomore center, Chase’s younger brother, that broke a 1-1 tie in the second period and unleashed the onslaught that followed.
Cunningham took the puck from center ice down the left boards, beat two defenders, skated through the crease and got Broy to drop to the ice to try to block a shot that didn’t come. Instead, Cunningham held onto the puck and slid it into the far side of the net.
“The go-ahead goal is the biggest goal, and then Chase got the one right after me. We just built off of each goal,” Jared Cunningham said.
Chase Cunningham scored four minutes later after two Gorham defenders collided along the right boards, leaving the puck laying there for Cunningham to scoop up and carry to the left of Broy, again tucking it in beneath him.
Messalonskee Coach Mike Latendresse said it was defense and not turning the puck over that carried his team to victory. Ben Weeks made 23 saves but rarely faced an odd-man rush.
“I felt that we controlled the puck, controlled the game throughout,” Latendresse said. “The puck had a value to us and we were not just throwing it away to give them opportunities the other way.”
A dominant third period sealed the Messalonskee victory. The players savored the chance to hold up the champion’s trophy for once, carrying it to the glass to show their fans.
For the Cunninghams, the historic win meant the end of an era. After combining for 154 points this season, their days of playing together are over.
“I’m still trying to cherish this moment right now with my boys,” Jared Cunningham said. “It was amazing, though. At least we ended on a good note.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or: