WINSLOW — Sometimes there are moments that signify a player is ready for the next level.

Midway through the third period of Tuesday night’s Class B North quarterfinal playoff game between the Messalonskee and John Bapst boys hockey teams, Brandon Nale took a feed around center ice along the boards separating the team benches from the ice at Sukee Arena.

A pair of John Bapst defenders had retreated in between the Eagles junior and Crusaders goalkeeper Dan Sprague. At first glance it appeared the pair of defenders were well positioned to stop the charge, but Nale saw it differently.

Nale split the defenders while skating from left to right and maintaining control of the puck, then proceeded to beat Sprague top shelf with a backhand flick after a series of fakes. The score, which gave Messalonskee a 4-3 lead on its way to a 5-4 win, was just an example of how far Nale has come in the past few years.

“My freshman year I started off on defense. I had no hands whatsoever, just had a hard shot,” Nale said. “Since last year going forward I’ve found my hands. (The move) was just a nice, little toe drag.”

Messalonskee (12-5-2), the No. 3 seed, will meet No. 2 Camden Hills (16-3-0) on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Sukee in the first of two Class B North semifinals. No. 1 Waterville (16-1-1) will play No. 4 Winslow (13-4-2) at 8 p.m. in the other. While Nale — who has lost just six games in his high school career — is hoping for the best, it very well could be his final game in an Eagles uniform.

Prior to Tuesday’s game against John Bapst, Nale signed a contract to play for the Islanders Hockey Club (North Andover, Massachusetts) of the United States Premier Hockey League. Brian Umansky, head coach of the Islanders’ USP3 team, was in attendance for Tuesday’s game and said by phone Friday that the USP3 team is likely where Nale would start if and when he arrives in the fall.

“I’m looking forward to furthering my hockey career next year playing for the Islanders Hockey Club,” Nale said. “My Day 1 dream has been to play Division I college hockey. Hopefully, I’ll make it there someday.”

The contract Nale signed is not all that different from a verbal commitment in college athletics, according to Umansky, as it will not become binding under USA Hockey until after the junior hockey national championship game in early April.

“He’s born with an innate quality of a scoring touch and the offensive ability for production that you can’t necessarily teach. It’s kind of something that you’re born with,” Umansky said. “That is one of the most attractive things about him is there’s something about him that he has where you just can’t teach.”

Nale’s journey to the next level has hardly come without sacrifice, though. He has been taking extra classes — including two online — with the hopes of graduating one year early this spring.

“It’s a grind but if I was failing school I wouldn’t be able to play this game,” said Nale, who has 92 goals and 110 assists in his career at Messalonskee. “I’ve got to do what I have to do I guess.”

Over the past few years Nale has become serious on the ice as well.

“I’ve always taken hockey very seriously but I’d say freshman year after that undefeated season I started having real fun with it, started doing a bunch of tournaments,” Nale said. “…It’s such a grind between hockey, the gym and the workouts, keeping in shape. It’s different.

“A couple of years ago I wasn’t in the gym. I wasn’t doing anything to improve my game. This year I’ve started switching it up. I found a trainer, been working my butt off.”

That work has not gone unnoticed from his current coach at Messalonskee, Joe Hague.

“Brandon’s speed has gone up tremendously from last year,” Hague said. “He’s done well. He put the work in and the effort in during the offseason and the season, and this is the outcome of it.”

Messalonskee lost its only meeting with Camden Hills 5-4 on Jan. 9, although the Eagles were without one of their star players, Jared Cunningham, in that game. Nale said he is excited for not only Saturday’s game, but the future as well.

“I’m very nervous because I obviously don’t want to go out in my junior/senior year on a loss,” Nale said, “but at the same time I am ready for it to get over and start up this new hockey.”

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.