ORONO — The final horn sounds, a swarm of Messalonskee Eagles pile on goalie Ben Weeks and a celebration ensues at one end of the Alfond Arena ice after an Eastern B championship game victory.
Messalonskee hockey fans have seen this play out before, and they savored it again Tuesday night.
Jared Cunningham scored a hat trick and three assists to lead an overwhelming offensive outburst as top-seeded Messalonskee steamrolled No. 2 Presque Isle 9-3 in the Eastern B title game before a modest crowd at the University of Maine.
“We were very aware of the magnitude of this game to get back to where we want to be,” Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse said. “We didn’t play our best game but we came to work, and we did. We got it done.”
Added Jared Cunningham: “We beat them to every loose puck. I just go out there and try to capitalize on every opportunity. We came out hungry and we worked hard.”
Messalonskee (20-0-0) will play either Gorham or Greely in the Class B state title game Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Saturday. Gorham (16-3-0) and Greely (10-7-3) play for the Western B title Wednesday night.
Dan Condon and Chase Cunningham each scored two goals for the Eagles (20-0-0), who won their third consecutive regional championship.
There’s been little drama in the last two.
A year after blasting John Bapst 7-2 in this game last year, Messalonskee sucked any potential drama Tuesday with a five-goal outburst in the second period that broke open a 3-2 game.
“We opened it up,” Condon said. “We had to keep digging. We had to keep pushing. We knew we had it in us. Things started clicking. We wanted this and we’re not stopping.”
Tyler Seeley, Andrew Michaud and Alex Michaud all scored for No. 2 Presque Isle, which finished 13-6-1.
“The outcome was not surprising to us,” Presque Isle coach Dr. Carl Flynn said. “We hoped for something different. We won seven in a row to end the (regular) season to get into the playoffs. At one point this year we were wondering if we were even going to make it.”
Messalonskee led just 3-2 after the first period but it scored three quick goals in about a five-minute span to put the game away.
Brandon Nale got it started about four minutes into the second when he took a pass from Chase Cunningham at the right point and beat Presque Isle goalie Jillian Flynn with a shot through traffic.
A little more than two minutes later, Condon made it 5-2 when he beat Flynn from out front.
“We weren’t nervous after the first,” Latendresse said. “The guys were very confident, very aware of the situation. They were here to do the work. We made some mistakes, particularly early. But we bounced back. The bench were under control. We still had the lead and in good position, but we weren’t where we wanted to be after the first period.”
The Wildcats, who were playing in their fourth regional final in nine seasons, pulled within 5-3 on an Alex Michaud goal with 6:37 remaining in the second, but that would be as close as they would get the rest of the night.
Towle and the Cunningham brothers added goals to cap a dominant second period for Messalonskee, whose speed seemed to wear down PI.
The teams traded goals in a wild first period.
They were tied 2-2 before Jared Cunningham scored his second goal of the game with 2:07 left in the first to give Messalonskee a 3-2 lead.
Cunningham came down the left side on a two-on-one rush with brother Chase but fanned on his centering attempt. However, he didn’t lose possession of the puck and still beat Flynn with a low shot through the pads.
Condon, playing in his first regional final, opened the scoring just 1:13 into the game when he redirected a Sam Bell shot from the right point past Flynn.
Condon positioned himself out front and was able to deflect the puck to the far corner.
PI answered with 5:51 left in the period, when Andrew Michaud ripped a shot through a crowd from the left point that just slipped through the pads of Messalonskee goalie Ben Weeks.
Messalonskee responded just 24 seconds later when Jared Cunningham took a pass from Josh Towle and beat Flynn with a nice shot from out front.
“It seemed every time we scored they had an answer,” Flynn said. “That was big for them.”
The Wildcats, like they did in their semifinal victory over Waterville, stormed back with a goal from Seeley with 3:54 remaining in the period.
Seeley took a pass from Cooper Madore at the offensive blueline and, with a defender on him, muscled a shot that slipped past Weeks.
“They put pretty good pressure on us,” Chase Cunningham said. “We just had to keep it going. We had to work hard for what we got.”