ORONO — Depth and balance allowed the Waterville hockey team to remain unbeaten against Class B opponents this season, and so was the case Tuesday night at Alfond Arena on the University of Maine campus.

The top-seeded Purple Panthers (18-1-1) wore down four-time defending regional champion Messalonskee (13-6-2) to capture the Class B North championship with a 5-2 victory. Waterville will face either Gardiner or Yarmouth in the Class B title game Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

Those teams play Wednesday night in the Class B South title game.

“We had a rough path coming here last year. We lost a tough one (to Winslow in the semifinals) and this year we were determined,” Waterville senior Nick Denis said. “We’re not done, we’re going to keep rolling and see how it goes.”

Michael Oliveira paced Waterville with a pair of goals, while Denis had a goal and two assists. Justin Wentworth and Jackson Aldrich each had a goal and an assist. Jared Cunningham had both goals for No. 3 Messalonskee.

“I’m just embracing it at this point,” Oliveira said. “I really don’t have any words to describe it. It’s just awesome.”

The Purple Panthers fell behind early Tuesday as the Eagles took a deliberate approach in the opening period. That patience paid off with 5:12 to play in the first when Brandon Nale chased down a loose puck along the boards opposite the team benches and skated behind Waterville’s goal. Nale waited a moment and ultimately found Cunningham out front for the score to put the Eagles ahead 1-0.

Messalonskee continued to control the tempo until a five-minute penalty on Dylan Brown for boarding with 4:42 remaining in the first gave Waterville the opening it needed.

The Eagles — who were once again without starting defenseman Sam Bell (illness) — nearly killed off the penalty but with 10.2 seconds left in the period Oliveira slipped behind his defender and scored off an assist from Roderigue to tie it up.

“Momentum changes in big games like this,” Cunningham said. “We came out pretty hot and we were ready and I don’t know.

“…When you’ve got to kill a couple five-minute penalties it’s just draining for you. You’re using everything you can to kill that off just to get five on five, just to keep going back. It’s tough and they just got some momentum going.”

Waterville carried that momentum into the second and outshot the Eagles 14-2 in the period. The Purple Panthers made good on all those chances with just under five minutes remaining in the second when Denis scooped up a loose puck behind the Messalonskee net and found Oliveira out front to give Waterville the lead for good.

“Nick just threw it out to me and I hit it one time,” Oliveira said. “It stayed right on the ice and ended up in the back of the net.”

Wentworth scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal with 1:39 remaining in the period when he rammed home a rebound with the puck sitting just in front of the goal line after Messalonskee goalie Amber Kochaver (28 saves) could not cover up a rebound.

“We got out to a flat start in the second and they got a couple quick goals there,” Cunningham said. “They just got the momentum and we just couldn’t come back.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

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