WINSLOW — Heading into Saturday night’s showdown against Messalonskee High School, Waterville boys hockey coach Dennis Martin was not sure how his team was going to slow down the Eagles’ top line of Jake Dexter, Jared Cunningham and Brandon Nale.

It would appear he — and the rest of Eastern B, for that matter — is still searching for the answer.

Messalonskee’s top line combined for three first-period goals at Sukee Arena as the Eagles (9-1-0) rolled to a 4-1 victory over Waterville (6-4-0).

“They’re a concern for everybody,” Martin said. “They do all their work for them. They move the puck well and stuff, we tried some things and our guys didn’t adapt.

“… A lot of missed opportunities that we could have had but when you’re a good team like they are it’s going to happen.”

Cunningham led the way for the Eagles with three goals and an assist, while Dexter finished with a goal and an assist. Nale had a pair of helpers and goaltender Elijah Tuell notched 23 saves.

It was quite an impressive performance for the Eagles considering the bulk of the team battled the flu prior to and during the game.

“It was ‘The Walking Dead’ almost,” joked Messalonskee coach Joe Hague. “When you get 10 kids at practice and you’re used to having 17 it definitely makes for a harder week.

“… I’m impressed with how much they put the effort in and didn’t give up. They kept skating and you could see out there some of these guys were just really tired and energy is drained. Illness will do that to you.”

Despite how they may have felt, Messalonskee’s top line did not wait long to get going as 2 minutes, 34 seconds into the contest Dexter got the Eagles on the board with assists credited to both Nale and Cunningham.

From there the Purple Panthers managed to somewhat find their footing, but with 6:55 left in the first Cunningham got one of his own to double Messalonskee’s advantage. Less than two minutes later he took a feed from Dexter, skated in on Waterville goalkeeper Nathan Pinnette, faked left and buried the puck inside the right post to make it 3-0 Eagles.

“They started off really well,” Hague said. “Popping in three like that in the first definitely takes a little bit of the pressure off but we still tried to keep it going.”

Neither team could find the back of the net in the second but 1:23 into the third Waterville showed some fight, as freshman Cody Pellerin cleaned up a rebound off a Jackson Aldrich shot to cut the deficit to 3-1.

“We don’t quit,” Martin said. “The kids play hard, they’re going to bring everything they have.”

That would be as close as the Purple Panthers would get through as Cunningham shut the door with a breakaway, shorthanded goal with 8:10 remaining in the third.

“Yesterday I felt pretty awful and my head was about ready to explode,” Cunningham said. “I basically took some medicine, got a good night’s sleep and came out here and gave it everything I had.”

Over the past few weeks Messalonskee has been one of the hottest teams in the state, having won its last seven games. The Eagles last loss was a 6-1 decision on Dec. 17 against Bangor, whom they will see in a little over a week on Jan. 28.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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