LEWISTON — On Saturday afternoon, Mike Latendresse allowed himself to use the word he’s avoided since the start of the high school ice hockey season.
“This is the first day, today, that I used the word undefeated. It’s the first time, and it’s special,” Latendresse, the head hockey coach at Messalonskee High School, said. “Twenty-one and O, that’s pretty special.”
Latendresse stood on the ice at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, where his Eagles had just defeated Gorham, 6-1, for the Class B state championship. It was the first hockey title for the Eagles, who had come so close the last two years.
You want motivation? Win a runner-up trophy. You want more motivation? Take second place a second time.
The Eagles were Class B runner-ups each of the last two seasons. Their previous two state championship experiences ended with them watching Greely celebrate on the Colisee ice.
“We talked about it a lot this week. We tried to just put it behind us,” senior Chase Cunningham, who scored in the second period to give Messalonskee a 3-1 lead, said. “It’s definitely hard to forget about it. You don’t forget.”
Really, you don’t want to forget. Senior Josh Towle suffered a broken left wrist in the first game of the regular season, a 3-2 win over Class A Bangor. The two championship game losses played in Towle’s head when his arm was in a cast for much of the season, and served as motivation to get back on the ice and play well. Towle scored Messalonskee’s final goal on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s the most motivation I’ve ever seen. This team came together,” Towle said. “We knew what we had to accomplish to be No.1 1 this year.”
In 2012, Messalonskee upset Brewer in the Eastern regional final. Against Greely, they were just happy to be on the ice on championship Saturday.
“The first year, Greely was such a better team than we were. We had played a great game against Brewer,” Latendresse said. “We get here, we’re somewhat prepared, kind of overwhelmed by the game. We played good hockey, but Greely was just a better team.”
Last season, the Eagles played well and lost a close game to the Rangers.
“We could have won that game, but again, Greely played well,” Latendresse said.
If Messalonskee was going to win a title, it was going to be this year, when experience and talent merged. The Eagles averaged close to seven goals per game. They beat two of the top Class A teams, Bangor and Falmouth, in the regular season. Chase Cunningham took the ice on Saturday with 32 goals and 47 assists. He had a goal and two assists against Gorham. His younger brother Jared had 28 goals and 42 assists coming into the state game. He scored one of the prettiest goals you’ll see a high school player notch, faking a Gorham defender and goalie Justin Broy so superbly, all Cunningham had to do was tap the puck into the wide open net.
“We felt confident coming into the playoffs. We were calm. We had been there, and it felt comfortable. We just prepared ourselves very well,” Latendresse said. “Not much really bothered them.”
This is Latendresse’s 12th season as Messalonskee’s head coach. He’s quick to point out he inherited a program that was in pretty good shape, and has pretty good players.
“You have to have players. You have to have the quality players we’ve had over the last three, four years to get to this point. It’s been a lot of hard work, but it paid off,” Latendresse said.
For future Messalonskee hockey teams, motivation won’t have to come from loss. It can come from victory, and trying to do it again.