WINSLOW — The Messalonskee hockey team, after spending a chunk of time working on situational plays, is wrapping up a recent practice with some conditioning.
For most of the Eagles, the back-and-forth skating is just another end-of-practice drill.
It’s a bit more personal for brothers Chase and Jared Cunningham.
“I was watching them,” Latendresse said. “They wanted to beat other to the finish line. Badly. You could just see it. It’s what brothers do, right? They get competitive with each other, but it’s in a good way. They push each other. But you know what? It has to be exciting to play with your sibling. Not too many of us can do that. It’s something special.”
Indeed it is, the Cunninghams say.
“I’ve always wanted to play with him,” said Jared Cunningham, 14. “I remember watching my brother play last year and all I was thinking was, ‘I really want to play with him.’ I knew the chance would come.”
The chance came this season.
Chase Cunningham, 17, a junior, and Jared last played together three years ago on the middle school team. Before that, it was quite a while since they had played together.
“There was one year in Mites,” said dad Butch Cunningham, 46, who helps coach the Messalonskee middle school team. “Jared was 5 and Chase was 8. We’ve been looking forward to this day for a long, long time.”
The whistle blows and the pack of Eagles takes off toward the red line, then back to the blue line.
Chase is leading his brother, but it’s too close to call at this point.
“Go!” bellows a voice from the ice. “Keep going!”
The Eagles skate harder, faster.
The drill continues, but it’s clear there isn’t much separating the Cunningham brothers in this drill.
Not much separates them in games, either.
The brothers are one of the most electrifying duos in Eastern B, if not the state.
The two skate on the Eagles’ top line and are putting up impressive numbers.
Chase has 18 goals and 23 assists for a team-leading 41 points. Jared is nipping at his brother’s heels with 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points. The brothers have combined for seven game-winning goals and just six penalty minutes.
The similarities are striking.
Both have good hands, see the ice well and make good decisions with the puck.
There is also that chemistry thing that binds them together on the ice.
“I always know where he is on the ice,” Jared said. “I just do. One time, on a 5-on-4 situation, we were cycling it and cycling it around and we just knew where each other was, and we knew where each other would be. We just have that … connection.”
Added Chase: “I know where he’s going to be at all times. It’s just … we just know.”
Chase Cunningham scored 68 points last season. He skated on the top line with powerful forward Sam Dexter and helped Messalonskee win the Eastern B title.
Dexter, along with a few other key seniors, graduated, leaving the Eagles with a few questions heading into this season.
Chief among them was where would the offense come from?
The Cunningham brothers quickly had the answer.
“I kind of expected it,” Latendresse said. “I knew coming in they’d be on the same line together. It made sense. I was hoping to create what’s been created.”
Jared credited his brother with helping him make a smooth transition from middle school to varsity.
“Oh yeah, he’s helped me out a lot,” Jared said. “He tells what to do and gives good advice. Last year, it wasn’t very fun. We weren’t very good. I have to work a lot harder just to stay with him. I worked pretty hard in the offseason and in preseason. We worked out two weeks straight before beginning. I knew I had to step it up.”
Added Chase: “I wasn’t expecting him to do this good. I knew he’d be pretty good, but I wasn’t expecting this much out of him. It’s been a lot of fun. I do try and help him out. I tell him that you can’t get worked up. You just have to keep going. He’s done a good job; hopefully, he can keep it up.
The Eagles are starting to tire. You can see it on their faces and in legs. The brothers keep pushing. Stride for stride, they race back to the blueline and take off again.
Like most siblings, there are differences between the Cunninghams. Some are subtle, others not so much.
“We both play the game the same way,” Chase said. “We are both fancy with how we do stuff out there. But we are a little different. He’s a little more physical than I am. He plays the body more than I do.”
The brothers insist they don’t think about their brotherly connection.
“We’re just out there playing,” Chase said. “It’s just another day on the ice. We can’t think about stuff like that. Sometimes we’ll get mad with each other, but we always work it out.”
Off the ice, they have some similar interest, but do have some differences.
“We both like to hunt and fish,” Jared said. “But we have some things that are different, like music. He likes stuff from the 1980s. I like rap and today’s stuff. In the car, I’ll change the station and he’ll be like, ‘Change it back!’ We’re pretty close.”
But, Dad says, they are pretty different, too
“Completely different,” he says. “Chase is way more laid back while Jared is more outspoken. They really are two totally different kids. Jared is a little bit more on the feisty side.”
The final whistle blows, bringing an end to the drill. The victor on this day? Too close to call. Neither celebrates victory, making one believe they indeed finished in a tie. No matter, there will be other races. The brotherly competition is far from over.
Butch Cunningham lets out a hearty laugh when asked the question.
“Do they compete with each other?” Butch asked. “Neither one of them wants to lose. It’s one thing to lose to one of your friends but it’s different with your brother. The bragging rights go on for awhile, too.
“If they are doing anything, like playing cribbage, you need an adult in the room.”
Latendresse says the competition carries over on the ice.
“They’re always competing with each other,” Latendresse said. “I think that’s what makes them so successful. As brothers, they have such a good bond. They have that, ‘I want to be better than my brother at this.’ It’s a brotherly rivalry. They feed off each other and they make each other better. It’s something special.”
The brothers agree.
As they skate off the Sukee Arena ice after a recent practice, they pat each other on the helmet.
“This is a lot of fun,” Jared said. “Hopefully, we can keep this going.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640