The Messalonskee hockey team opened the Eastern B playoffs with blowout victories over John Bapst and Presque Isle, outscoring them by a combined 14-1.
The Eagles then pulled off the improbable, beating two-time regional champ Brewer in the Eastern B final.
Now, comes their greatest challenge yet.
Messalonskee (18-3-0) will play Greely (14-4-2) for the Class B state championship at 1 p.m. today at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
“Both teams are on a mission,” Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse said. “When you get to this point, the last two teams standing have to be on a mission. This will be our biggest challenge of the season.”
Greely, the top seed in Western B, is in the state final for the third time in six seasons. The Rangers won their only championship in 2009-10. Messalonskee, meanwhile, has never played in a state championship game.
“We have to stay focused,” said Messalonskee senior forward Sam Dexter, who leads the team with 47 goals and 77 points. “We can’t get overwhelmed by the situation. We have to stay poised. We want it pretty bad. It should be a good game.”
The matchup, Greely junior captain defenseman Tim Storey said, caught the Rangers by surprise.
“Yes, it was a little surprising,” he said. “All we kept hearing all year was that Brewer was the top team.”
Greely lost just once to a Class B opponent this season — to Yarmouth on Jan. 21.
The Rangers beat Messalonskee 3-1 on Feb. 18.
“We’re very similar teams,” Greely coach Barry Mothes said. “It was a playoff-like game when we played them.”
In that game, the Eagles were without first-line forward Chase Cunningham (illness), who has 65 points (25 goals, 43 assists). Cunningham skates on Messalonskee’s top line with Dexter and James Varney (39 points). The Eagles hope his presence today makes a difference.
The Eagles also hope senior goalie Nate DelGiudice continues his run of strong play. DelGiudice has a 1.56 goals against average this season, a school record.
“Nate DelGiudice is as good a goalie as we’ve played all year,” Mothes said. “He has that quiet, effortless focus to him. We’re going to have to work hard to beat him.”
Added DelGiudice, whose 16 career shutouts are also a school record: “We know what Greely is all about. They are deep and fast and talented. They don’t give up and they play well together. It’s going to be a tough challenge.”
Greely doesn’t have a player who has scored more than 30 points this season. The Rangers leading scorer, freshman Mitchel Donovan, has 29 points.
Messalonskee has four players who have scored at least 39 points. Defenseman Travis St. Pierre (42) joins Dexter, Cunningham and Varney in that category.
However, the statistical edge can be attributed to depth: Greely rolls as many as four lines while Messalonskee skates just two.
“I hope so,” Mothes said, when asked if that could be an advantage today. “We’ve worked hard to be that kind of team. We’ve played as many as four lines but we have had to tighten up the bench a little bit in the playoffs. We’ll certainly be rolling three lines (today), though.”
Kenny Richards and Ted Hart each have 21 points for the Rangers. Senior captain forward Pete Stauber has 20 while Reid Howland is next with 16.
Greely also will start freshman Kyle Kramlich in goal. He has a 2.28 goals against average.
“We know Messalonskee is a physical team,” Stauber said. “We have to match their intensity. We know (DelGiudice) is a great goalie so we’ll have to get a lot of shots at any angle on him. It should be a great game. We’re excited.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640