WINSLOW — Josh Towle absorbed a hip check below the left faceoff dot and went down to his knees. Rattled but not toppled, the Messalonskee junior forward lost his balance but not the puck in the third period of the Eastern B championship game Tuesday night against John Bapst.

“I came down the left side and got checked,” Towle says. “My (right) leg went down but I still had the puck in front so I gave it to Chase (Cunningham).”

Towle, showing great poise with a John Bapst defender still draped over him, fed the puck to Cunningham, who then flipped it over to the back post where younger brother Jared Cunningham awaited. Jared Cunningham finished the play by burying the puck into an open corner.

Shifty and elusive. Gritty and determined.

There are a lot of ways to describe Towle, who at 5-foot-4 inches is the smallest player for two-time defending Eastern B champ Messalonskee, which is preparing to face Greely in the Class B state championships game for a second consecutive season.

“He’s a feisty guy,” Chase Cunningham said. “He does a lot of everything for us. He just goes out there and makes a lot of plays for us. He’s really stepped up this year and has done what we’ve needed him to do.”

The Cunningham brothers — junior Chase and freshman Jared — are two of the most explosive players in Eastern B. They’ve combined to score 141 points in just 20 games, a remarkable feat for the Eagles (18-2-0).

But every scorer needs a playmaker. And every line needs someone who is willing — loves, even — to go into corners for loose pucks.

Towle is that player for Messalonskee’s top line.

“Mostly what I do is try to get the puck over to Jared and Chase,” Towle says. “I like to forecheck hard and I’m always looking to make a play. I love playing with those guys, too. I feel like I’m part of them.”

Towle is third on the team in scoring with 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points. He averages 2.5 points a game.

“He’s making plays for us,” Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse says. “His ability to make plays with the Cunninghams is important for us. Offensive, he’s capable of scoring goals, and he’s had a lot this season. He’s just a determined player.”

The production, coupled with the team’s success, has silenced many of Towle’s doubters.

And there were doubters.

“It’s tough being the smallest guy on the team,” Towle said, “but I can’t let it get to me. I used to hear it all the time, that I was too small. I don’t hear it much any more. Maybe it’s because I’m a junior.”

More likely, it’s because Towle has emerged as a much-needed sparkplug. Chase Cunningham says Towle helps alleviate some of the pressure the line feels in a game.

“He takes a lot of it off us,” he said. “He goes into the corners and does a lot of the work. He just helps us out a lot.”

Towle also uses his speed to compensate for his size.

“I’ve been skating for a long time,” he says. “I use my balance and speed. If I know something is coming, I just try to bend my knees and take it. I wait for it to come and try to withstand it. It’s a challenge but it’s fun.”

The Cunningham brothers are just a few inches taller than Towle. Latendresse said he never considered pairing the brothers with a bigger player because the trio “were a perfect fit.”

“They create matchup issues,” Latendresse said. “They are the right fit. They were meant to play with each other. We knew fairly early on that we would line them up together.”

The Eagles and Rangers (16-4-0) will face off at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Androscoggin Bank Colisee. It’s a rematch of the Class B state title game last season, which Greely won 6-2. The Rangers also beat the Eagles 8-4 in the regular season.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Towle says. “We’ll be ready. We can’t wait.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

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