OAKLAND — Coaches in Eastern Class B strategized all season on how to stop the Messalonskee boys hockey team’s top line of senior Jake Dexter, junior Jared Cunningham and sophomore Brandon Nale.

After the trio combined for 14 points in an 8-3 win over Winslow in the Eastern B championship last Tuesday, it is pretty clear none of them worked.

“They’re just quick. They really try to move the puck and they don’t move east to west,” Messalonskee coach Joe Hague said. “They move north to south and they try to do it at a quick motion.

“They use each other well and it has been a good matchup for them all year.”

Statistics at times can be misleading, but in the case of Dexter, Cunningham and Nale they truly tell the story.

After recording one goal and five assists against Winslow, Cunningham is up to 29 goals and 48 assists (76 points) on the season and is closing in on his brother Chase’s all-time scoring mark. Chase Cunningham finished his career with 251 points, while Jared is at 219 with one game remaining in his junior season.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Jared Cunningham said. “He pushed me every day just to be better and better, and I think he’s a huge part of what (kind of) a hockey player I am today.”

Like Cunningham, Dexter also had an older brother, Sam, who played at Messalonskee, although Jake Dexter views his and his brother’s accomplishments separately. Jake Dexter has certainly carved out his own path with the Eagles and this season has tallied 38 goals and 33 assists (71 points). For his career he has 64 goals and 67 assists (131 points).

“Sam did his thing while he was here and I had fun playing with him while he was here, but this is kind of a whole new team,” Dexter said. “It’s just a lot different from back then.”

Hague knew Nale would be an important player for the Eagles this season, but there was some uncertainty as to just where he would fit in at the beginning of the winter due to his talents as both a defenseman and forward.

Dustin Brown’s willingness to play defense despite limited experience proved to be key for the Eagles though, and he has teamed with Dylan Burton throughout the season. The play of the Eagles’ other defensive pairing, Sam Bell and Connor Smith, also made way for Nale to slot in at forward.

“For a kid who’s really not played a lot of defense he’s been solid. He’s stepped up and did the best he could, which really helped us out,” Hague said of Brown’s play. “That gave us the freedom to move Nale up and keep his speed and his strength with (Dexter and Cunningham).”

Nale has made the best of his opportunity on the front line, and has recorded 35 goals and 39 assists (74 points) this season. Though just a sophomore, he has already accumulated 118 points in his career.

“It was just kind of natural,” Nale said of fitting in along the front line. “We all clicked really well.

“(We) just move the puck well. We’re all pretty experienced, we’ve played hockey our whole lives and communication is key.”

All three agreed that chemistry has played a critical part in their success, and there has been no better example of that than when they get an opportunity to counterattack. Such an instance arose early in the second period last Tuesday when Cunningham picked up a loose puck and skated into the zone with three Winslow players in position to make a play.

Cunningham sliced his way into open ice thanks to a series of nifty moves to draw the defense and proceeded to swing the puck to the left wing for a streaking Dexter. The senior forward hit a one-timer on net that had all the makings of a great goal had it not been for a better save by Winslow goaltender Andrew Beals.

While it did not result in a score, it is the type of play that the front-line group routinely produced throughout the contest.

“We just know where each other are the whole time on the ice,” Cunningham said. “It’s just been fun playing together.

“Some teams might try to run a trap to try and slow us down, but I just think we’re too quick. We’re pretty tough to be stopped, and when we’re playing our ‘A’ game we’re pretty dominant.”

Dexter, Cunningham and Nale have rightfully gotten a lot of attention for Messalonskee (19-1-0) this season, but they are not the only ones that have allowed the Eagles to return to the Class B championship.

First-year goaltender Elija Tuell rebounded from a rocky start to turn himself into a difference maker for the team. The second line of Jack Moore, Devin Pickett and Dylan Brown and third line of Dana Michaud, Shea McCann and Will Weeks have not scored a lot of goals this season, yet they have not given up many either.

After rolling through Eastern B this season, Messalonskee will see if the West can put up a fight. The Eagles — who have won 17 straight — will take on Western B champ Gorham (14-5-2) for the Class B title Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.