WINSLOW — While the excitement on the hardwood is reaching its apex, the ice is just about to warm up.

The boys ice hockey season came to a close Thursday and — based off the final Heal points — the Eastern Class B playoffs could feature some great games between local rivals.

After a slow start while players and first-year coach Joe Hague grew accustomed to one another, Messalonskee (17-1-0) caught fire and rolled to the No. 1 seed.

“It’s been an experience for me,” Hague said. “I’ve never had this much talent to work with so it’s been fun to work with the kids and get to know them.”

The Eagles’ top line of senior Jake Dexter, junior Jared Cunningham and sophomore Brandon Nale put together a very impressive season and combined for 185 points.

Trying to take down Messalonskee will be second-seeded Waterville (13-4-1) and third-seeded Winslow (12-6-0). The two teams battled for the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it down the stretch, with the Purple Panthers coming out ahead thanks in large part to their 7-4 win over the Black Raiders on Jan. 11 at Sukee Arena.

“You want to keep winning and playing your best hockey this time of year, and I think we’re getting better each game,” Waterville coach Dennis Martin said. “We’ll see the outcome of the first round game so we can get to it. We’re taking it one game at a time.”

Waterville will face the winner of Winslow and No. 6 Hampden (7-10-1) in the semifinals. The Black Raiders — who will play the Broncos Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Sukee — obviously would have preferred to have been the No. 2 seed, but they are also just fine with No. 3.

“Compared to last year we improved a lot. Things are going well. We had a good stretch at one point and it was a good season overall finishing third,” Winslow senior Alex Berard said. “It wasn’t second like the way we wanted it but third place is still pretty good. (We get) home ice first round.”

Messalonskee will await the winner of No. 4 Brewer (8-7-3) and No. 5 John Bapst (10-6-2) for its semifinal round game.

Another team that calls Sukee Arena home, Lawrence/Skowhegan (11-6-1), is also playoff-bound. The fourth-seeded Bandits will play No. 5 Edward Little (9-9-0) in the quarterfinals of the Eastern A playoffs Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Sukee.

“We beat them twice already,” Bandits senior forward Cody Martin said. “We know what they’ve got and I definitely think they’re beatable again.”

In the second half of the season the Bandits were one of the hottest teams in Eastern A. They closed the season by winning 10 of their final 11 games.

“We continuously improved all season long, which is what you look for. The guys have really come together and we have great camaraderie, especially with two schools coming together,” Bandits coach Ted Fabian said. “It shows a lot about the character of the guys and they show up ready to work for every practice.”

Cony/Monmouth (5-13-0 Eastern A), Poland/Gray-New Gloucester/Oak Hill (8-10-0 Eastern A), Maranacook/Winthrop (1-17-0 Western B) and Gardiner (7-11-0 Western B) each missed the postseason, and for the Tigers in particular coming up short stung.

Despite winning four more games than Greely (3-14-1) Gardiner still fell short of the seventh and final playoff spot in the final Heal points by 0.4089 points. The manner in which the Tigers fell short was also unfortunate, as they lost to No. 1 Kennebunk (14-2-2) on a goal with 47.5 seconds remaining in overtime in their final game of the season.

“They gave us everything they had,” Gardiner coach Jeff Ross said. “For the first two periods we controlled the game.

“They responded well from a tough situation. We knew we had to have at least a win or a tie. They worked for it and unfortunately it just didn’t happen.”

The bright side for Gardiner is it did not have a senior on the roster this season and a finish like this can only serve as motivation for next year.

“We had a couple meetings with a couple kids and said, ‘I know it stings and you need to hold onto that feeling. That should motivate you all offseason,'” Ross said. “It’s just a matter of what you learn from those lessons that determines what’s going to happen in the future.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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