Chase Cunningham spent the bulk of last season trying to set up the go-to player on the Messalonskee hockey team, Sam Dexter.
His role changed quite a bit this season.
“I knew I’d be the guy this year Coach would rely on,” Cunningham said. “I wanted to put the team on my back.”
Cunningham did just that, scoring a whopping 74 points (34 goals, 40 assists) in 21 games. The bigger the game, the better Cunningham played for the Eagles, who won their second consecutive Eastern B championship.
For leading Messalonskee back to the Class B state title game, Cunningham has been named the Morning Sentinel Hockey Player of the Year.
“We had a great season,” said Cunningham, a junior. “We accomplished a lot. I was happy with what I did. I didn’t want to change the way I played but I wanted to be the guy coach could rely on.”
Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse said Cunningham progressively became more dangerous with the puck as the season wore on.
“He accomplished what Sammy (Dexter) did last year,” he said. “Last year he was the playmaker with Sammy being the go-to guy. Chase became that guy this year. All season long he was very consistent in his play.”
Shifty and elusive, Cunningham shared Player of the Year honors in Eastern B with Brewer forward Spencer Valley.
Cunningham skated with his younger brother, Jared, and Josh Towle. The trio formed the most dangerous line in Eastern B.
“I’ve been playing with good players since my freshman year,” Cunningham said. “We play well together. We’re always looking to get others involved. We all want to set each other up. We’re just trying to make plays. I just wanted to be consistent, and I think I was.”
Added Latendresse: “Chase is an extremely hard-working player. With all the skills he has, and all his abilities, and all he is able to do on the ice, he makes his teammates want to go hard. Every time he jumps on the ice he wants to improve. He wants to get better. This year he had to become more of a leader. He wanted to step up his game even more.”
Cunningham saved his best performances late in the season.
He scored a hat trick against John Bapst in the Eastern B championship game. Two of the goals came in a decisive third period to help the Eagles roar into the state final with a 7-2 thumping of the Crusaders.
“He was unstoppable,” Latendresse said.
John Bapst beat Messalonskee in overtime during the regular season. That loss, Cunningham said, had a profound effect.
“We were pretty down after losing to them,” he said, “but then we put it together. It was a lot of fun.”
Messalonskee lost the Class B state championship game to Greely for a second consecutive season.
Cunningham said the 3-0 setback this year was a little easier to take.
“I still think about it all the time but it’s easier than last year,” he said. “We have a good group coming back next year so I’m pretty excited.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640