GARDINER — Even after its recent four-game winning streak, the Gardiner boys hockey team (7-8-0 Western B) still has some work left to do if it hopes to make the playoffs.

Despite their record, the Tigers still trail Greely (2-10-1) for the seventh and final playoff spot by a margin of 17.0139-15.9877 in the Tournament Index.

“We made a move, unfortunately it hasn’t been enough yet so we’re going to have to continue to move,” Gardiner coach Jeff Ross said. “We’re going to have to beat a couple of these teams down the stretch.”

If Gardiner is going to get into the playoffs, it is going to have to do so playing arguably its most difficult stretch in its schedule. The Tigers travel to Rockland to play Camden Hills (9-3-0) Wednesday, face Kennebunk (11-2-2) at the Bank of Maine Ice Vault on Saturday and wrap things up by crossing state lines to take on York (9-4-1) Monday in Dover, N.H.

“We control our own destiny at this point,” Ross said. “If we win these three games we’ll be in. We control our future, we have the opportunity to get ourselves in the playoffs and we just have to do it.”

Fortunately for the Tigers, they have played some of their best hockey of the season over the past few weeks. Strong play from sophomore forwards Jake Folsom and Tristan Hebert have helped breathe life into the Tigers’ offense, while Sloan Berthiaume and Hunter Russell have been strong defensively.

Players like Alic Shorey, Joe Berglund, Connor Manter and Ryan Kelley are also contributing, while goaltender Michael Poirier has continued his standout play. He stopped 43 of the 45 shots he faced last week in wins over Marshwood/Traip and Houlton/Hodgdon.

“The kids are smart and they’re willing to learn, so we’re starting to make less of those rookie mistakes,” Ross said. “They’ve stayed focused and they’ve worked hard. We’ve won four in a row and it’s a lot of confidence.”

• • •

Messalonskee (15-1-0 Eastern B) has only gotten better as the season has gone along and the Eagles certainly proved that Friday night in a 4-2 win at Bangor (9-4-0 Eastern A).

Earlier this season the Rams handed Messalonskee its only loss to date, and did so in convincing fashion by a margin of 6-1.

“It was definitely an emotional win,” Messalonskee coach Joe Hague said. “We just had to wait four tries to get to this one with all the snow.

“They came out and played great. Jared Cunningham had one of the better games I’ve ever seen him play.”

Cunningham and fellow first-liners Brandon Nale and Jake Dexter have garnered plenty of attention for the Eagles this season, and rightfully so. They have not been the only ones playing well for Messalonskee though, as Hague said he has gotten strong play out of his second line of Dylan Brown, Devin Pickett and Dana Michaud as well.

Goaltender Elija Tuell has also continued to play well. He has not given up more than two goals in a game since giving up six to Bangor on Dec. 17.

“We’ve had strong goaltending and good defense, and that’s always a good way to start,” Hague said. “We’re just balanced out just a little bit more. Granted most of our scoring comes from the first line but we’re getting a lot of more production from the second and third lines.”

The Eagles wrap up the regular season at home against Brewer (8-5-2) Tuesday and at Old Town/Orono (5-6-1) Saturday, yet Messalonskee is making sure it stays hungry even after its big win over Bangor.

“That win over Bangor was something that really fed the team’s success,” Hague said. “They were very happy but they know now their big goal is still in sight and they’re definitely hungry to get the back to back (championships). There are going to be teams out there that are just as hungry as us though.”

• • •

Any time Winslow and Waterville play there is always plenty on the line no matter the sport, but Wednesday’s game between the two schools’ hockey teams will come with extra incentive for the winner.

As of Monday night the Black Raiders (10-4-0) were the No. 2 seed in Eastern B, while the Purple Panthers (9-4-1) were in the third spot.

“Like always it’s a big game and rivalry games are always important to win,” Winslow coach Andy Dube said. “We’re looking to build momentum heading into the early rounds of the playoffs and trying to finish second still.”

The top two seeds in Eastern B earn a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed very well could be determined by the result of Wednesday’s contest.

“We’re gearing up. That’s what I was worried about today, making sure we’re not thinking ahead to the big game on Wednesday,” Waterville coach Dennis Martin said after his team’s 3-1 win at Old Town/Orono. “We’re still fighting for that No. 2 spot.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley


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