OAKLAND — It may be a new year, but once again everyone in Eastern B is looking up in the standings at the Messalonskee High School boys hockey team.

Since dropping a 6-1 decision to Bangor on Dec. 17, the defending Class B champs have ripped off six wins in a row and averaged just over five goals per game during the stretch.

A big part of that success for Messalonskee (8-1-0) has been the play of its front line of Jake Dexter, Jared Cunningham and Brandon Nale. In Saturday night’s 5-1 win over Winslow (7-3-0) the trio combined to score all five of the Eagles’ goals.

Nale, a sophomore, has played particularly well with the first line despite starting the season as a defender.

“We needed to find something to throw up with Dexter and Cunningham, and Nale was definitely a perfect fit,” Messalonskee coach Joe Hague said. “He’s a good all-around player just like the other two. They’ve got speed, they’ve got hands and they have good hockey sense so sometimes you have to put all your eggs in one basket. For an offensive line they’re pretty productive.”

It did not take long for Hague to recognize that Nale’s talents would be better served at the offensive end of the ice, as he made the change after a 6-5 win over Winslow in the Eagles’ season opener.

“When it came down after the first game it was a pretty quick decision that we needed some more offense, and he definitely gave that complimenting the Cunningham-Dexter line at that time,” Hague said. “All three of them know each other really well so it definitely wasn’t a bad idea on our end just to see what happened. The results have been quite satisfying.”

Even as Messalonskee continues to roll, Hague said his team plans to still take things one game at a time.

“You can’t really take anybody for granted. You have to focus on the next one at hand and then move on to the next one after that,” the first-year coach said. “There’s really no strategy to it other than one game at a time, and we’ll see where the chips lay at the end and hopefully we’re the better team.”

• • •

Heading into this past weekend’s games at Presque Isle and Houlton/Hodgdon, Waterville coach Dennis Martin hoped the long trip would help his team to bond and recapture the same success it enjoyed at the start of the season.

After scoring a pair of wins — 8-0 and 9-2, respectively — Martin was not ready to say the Purple Panthers (6-3-0) were back to the same team that started the year 3-0, but the results were certainly encouraging.

During Waterville’s current three-game winning streak balance has been key, as it has gotten production out of its two top lines — dubbed the black and white lines. Nick Dennis, Michael Oliveira and Dalton Henderson have been playing together on the black line, while Justin Wentworth, Cody Pellerin and Jackson Aldrich have been playing on the white line.

“We’re getting scoring from everywhere,” Martin said. “We have eight guys that will probably have 20 or more points by the end of the year.

“We don’t have just two or three guys that we have to rely on to do everything.”

The Purple Panthers will get a chance to see if they have in fact turned the corner this weekend when they take on Messalonskee. The Eagles dealt Waterville a 7-2 loss when they met earlier this season, and Martin is well-aware that his team will need to slow down Messalonskee’s top line to have a chance Saturday.

“We’ve got a few strategies we’re going to try to do,” Martin said. “Obviously you can’t let them get going because they can score quick and in bunches.”

• • •

With one-third of the season in the books, the Cony/Monmouth (2-4-0), Lawrence/Skowhegan (1-5-1) and Poland/Gray-New Gloucester/Oak Hill (3-5-0) co-ops are still looking to find their footing.

The Bandits — who would be the seventh and final team to make the playoffs in Eastern A if the postseason began today — have shown in some stretches that they could contend with the top teams in the division, but just have not gotten rolling.

“We’ve got to take it one game at a time and try to get some momentum going,” Bandits coach Ted Fabian said. “We’ve continued to improve from the beginning of the year if you take the St. Doms game out of the picture.

“…We need to get some wins here.”

According to Fabian, the biggest area where they need to continue to improve is on special teams.

“The power play has improved and the penalty kill has improved,” he said. “Positionally I think we’ve come a long way. They’ve worked hard since day one and it will start coming together soon.”

For the Rams, meanwhile, their biggest issue has been consistency.

“We’re getting to the point where we have to start putting together periods and games, and being consistent so we can improve,” Cony/Monmouth coach Chad Foye said. “We haven’t been consistent all year.”

Foye is hoping his team’s finish in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the 26ers will be a turning point for the Rams. Trailing 4-2 heading into the final period, the Rams struck four times in the third to get the come-from-behind win on Dakota Benson’s game-winner with 2 minutes, 3 seconds remaining in the contest.

“I’m getting the sense that we can but to really get a full feel for the team I think we have to put more than a full period together,” Foye said. “We have to continue with the effort whether things are going good or bad, and then I’ll have a better sense of whether or not we’re starting to turn the corner.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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