WINSLOW — The road to the Class B boys hockey championship still goes through Messalonskee High School — for now.

The two-time defending state champion Eagles survived a spirited effort from No. 6 John Bapst (11-7-1) Tuesday night at Sukee Arena to score a 5-4 win in a Class B North quarterfinal. Dylan Brown scored the game-winner with 1:51 remaining in the third on a power play off an assist from Jared Cunningham, while Brandon Nale had three goals and an assist in the win.

No. 3 Messalonskee (12-5-2) will face either No. 2 Camden Hills or No. 7 Old Town/Orono in the semifinals Saturday at Sukee.

“It’s playoff hockey. Everybody is bringing everything,” Messalonskee coach Joe Hague said. “If you don’t win, there’s no tomorrow. There’s no practice tomorrow if you don’t get a victory so you’re going to put everything you have out there.

“John Bapst came and threw everything they could on the ice. They did whatever they could and skated as hard as they could. It was a good game.”

The contest was tied 4-4 with 2:18 to play when John Bapst goaltender Dan Sprague (39 saves) took a hard backhand shot from Nale off the face mask. Moments later and prior to a faceoff from the right circle officials stopped the game for a moment for Sprague to be evaluated by the on-site trainer.

Sprague stayed in the game but during the stoppage Hague, assistant coach John DelGiudice and the players scripted what would prove to be the game-winning goal.

“Before that faceoff (Cunningham) came up to me and told me that if I won the draw to sneak back door without having anyone notice and he’d get it to me,” Brown, a junior forward, said.

Sure enough Cunningham, Messalonskee’s career scoring leader, kept his promise to deliver yet another crucial point.

Brown won the faceoff and glided to the right post as the puck was sent across the ice to Cunningham in the left circle. After pausing a moment for the passing lane to open, Cunningham sent the puck across the ice from left to right where an open Brown was waiting.

“Fortunately Jared got me the puck and I buried it,” Brown said.

John Bapst made a late charge to try to tie the game but in each instance the Messalonskee defense and goalkeeper Amber Kochaver — who made five of her 18 saves in the final minute — were up to the task.

“We came in and they played their hearts out,” Crusaders coach Andy Stephenson said. “We were in good shape. We were right where we wanted to be, let’s put it that way. This game could have gone either way.”

Messalonskee entered Tuesday night’s game having beaten the Crusaders 6-0 and 10-1, respectively, during the regular season, but each time the Eagles seemed to have taken control of the contest John Bapst had an answer.

“They just came out with an intensity they didn’t have the past few games,” said Messalonskee junior defenseman Connor Smith, who had a pair of assists in the win. “We knew we had to come in with our intensity because playoffs are totally different.”

The Eagles jumped ahead 2-0 on goals from Nale and Cunningham 37 seconds apart late in the first period, but only took a 2-1 advantage into the second after giving up a score from John Bapst’s Logan Cyr-Ellis with 10.4 seconds remaining in the period.

Nale extended the Eagles’ advantage to 3-1 5:40 into the second but less than two minutes later the Crusaders responded on a goal from Tyler Wheeler.

Moments after killing off a five-minute penalty for boarding early in the third the Crusaders’ finally pulled even on a goal from Nate Reese 3:32 into the period. Nale put the Eagles back in front 4-3 a little more than four minute later, but once again John Bapst had the answer when Wheeler cleaned up his own rebound with 4:18 remaining in the contest.

“It was pretty nerve-racking as the game went on but I knew we’d pull through,” Brown said. “We always do.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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