There was no great emergency in Oakland late Saturday afternoon. The six police cars and six fire trucks were there to escort the newly-crowned Class B state championship hockey team from Messalonskee High School.
The team bus was greeted at the I-295 exit following its return from Lewiston and 6-1 victory against Gorham and slowly made its way to the school as fans acknowledged their historic season along the way.
“It was a special couple of miles back to the school,” Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse said.
It was, likewise, a special season. Not only did the Eagles claim their first hockey state championship, they also went undefeated. Along the way, they knocked off three Class A teams, including a 7-2 win against Falmouth which later Saturday won its second straight Class A state championship.
The celebration will continue today at the school and later this evening at Messalonskee’s annual winter sports banquet.
“I can imagine it’s going to be a pretty good day at school,” senior forward Chase Cunningham said.
Cunningham, one of five seniors on the team, shattered school scoring marks for goals and assists. He’s one of four team members, along with Ben Weeks, Dan Condon and Josh Towle, who were selected to play in next weekend’s senior all-star game. That game, he believes, will be his last.
“I think I’m going to hang â€˜em up,” he said. “When I look back on it, those four years all went by too quick.”
After losing two straight years in the state championship game, the Eagles assumed the mantle of favorites in Class B this season. Three of their first four games were against Class A opponents, including Bangor and Falmouth, and victories over those clubs only solidified their resolve.
“(After) taking those, I just knew we were going to be able to contend for the state championship,” sophomore defenseman Dylan Burton said. “It boosted our confidence a lot.”
Burton, of course, has another couple of years and hopefully another state title or two. But the significance of what this year’s win would mean to the seniors wasn’t lost on him or his teammates.
“We wanted them to be able to leave with a smile on their faces,” he said.
Latendresse said this year’s team was deeper, echoed by Burton who said the team’s third line cold skate with most first lines it played against. And after battling assorted injuries and illnesses throughout the season, the Eagles were at their healthy peak on Saturday.
Latendresse, who has coached the Eagles for 12 seasons, knows a little bit about winning. He was a member of the University of Maine hockey team that went 42-1-2 in 1993 and won the national championship. He played five years of professional hockey but still calls that one the best he’s ever played on.
This year’s Messalonskee team may well be mentioned as one of the best ever in Class B. It’s tough to dispute. The Eagles went 21-0-0 and beat the reigning Class A champ.
“It’s not for me to judge that,” Latendresse said. “We definitely had a great team, there’s no doubt about that.”
The exhilaration of winning as a player or a coach never gets old., Latendresse said he has a different perspective on the game.
“It’s different being older,” he said. “The kids are like sons in a way. You watch them grow. The emotion (Saturday) was just amazing.”