WATERVILLE — Last season, the Messalonskee boys ice hockey team won one game. The year before that, just two. In the last three seasons combined, the team has only four wins.

After just one night, the Eagles were already a quarter of the way to that total this winter thanks to a 9-7 win over the rival Waterville/Winslow co-op last Saturday night at Colby College’s Alfond Rink. Senior Dylan Cunningham had a hat trick in the win, but it was a victory less about statistics and individual performances than it was about a group’s belief that the program had finally turned a corner in the right direction.

“I think we’ve come out and we’ve made a statement,” said senior captain Ben Hellen, whose father, Ron Hellen, played for the University of Maine in the mid-1980s. “This is what Messalonskee hockey is about this season. It’s going to be a lot different.”

Hellen said he and his fellow upperclassmen never wavered in their belief that the program could get back to the status it held when it won consecutive Class B state titles in 2014-15.

The Eagles were down four goals only 5:38 into the game against Kennebec. Last year’s team would have folded up shop and already begun looking forward to whoever was next on the schedule.

“For sure,” Hellen said. “This year, we’ve got more fight. There’s a lot of young kids with talent that are coming up, and we’ve got a lot of seniors that want to win. A lot of dedication in practice, we’re working a lot harder. Everything’s faster this year.”

A goal with under 12 seconds remaining in the first period, cutting Kennebec’s lead to three, was a turning point.

“We were down 5-1, but there was no quit. We felt the tides turning when we got that goal before the period. Going into the locker room, we didn’t feel like it was over. We felt like we still had stuff in the tank.”

That belief, head coach Kevin Castner said, is one of the biggest difference’s in this year’s team. He’s been there for four seasons now, and he’s seen teams that were ready to roll over and pack it in far too early.

The team’s leadership group is where Castner places all of the credit.

“It’s the kids. The kids put in the work, they put in the effort, they stayed focused,” Castner said. “It was a team win, from the goal line straight on out. They worked hard and they earned that win.

“It’s leadership. It’s confidence in their teammates, confidence in themselves.”

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It’s a busy start to the season for Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth which, after opening the slate with a 6-3 win over Marshwood last Saturday night, will play its next three games in a span of four days.

Thrust right into their first season in Class B North, the Rams traveled to Camden Hills on Wednesday, head to Brunswick on Friday night and then play rival Gardiner late Saturday afternoon. Head coach Shawn Johnson said it’s a good early season test for Cony.

“No question about it,” Johnson said. “All these teams are going to be pretty good, so we’ll see right where we’re at.”

The play of the team’s forwards, still without injured winger Tyrell Lewis, was a pleasant surprise for Johnson in the season opener. But the play of his team’s defense — which starts a freshman, a sophomore, a junior and a senior who did not play last year — was the real standout.

Yes, Cony allowed three goals, but it was the way in which the team kept its composure that impressed the coach.

“We went into it kind of like, ‘What the heck’s that going to be?’ and they did OK,” Johnson said. “They were resilient. That was the big thing that was an eye-opener. They didn’t pack it in when there were mistakes — and there were some — but that’s a positive for us.”

The hectic schedule in the first week of the season — Cony will have played five of its 18 games by Dec. 19, just 12 days into the season — isn’t the only logistical challenge the Rams are facing this winter. After decades of practicing right after school at Camden National Bank Ice Vault, Cony is sharing it’s assigned ice time with Gardiner.

Every other week, Cony gives up its afternoon slot to the Tigers while inheriting their post-9 p.m. skates.

“It’s tough,” Johnson said.

 

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After making a regional final appearance last season, the Kennebec RiverHawks’ season got off to a rough start in a 9-7 season-opening loss to Messalonskee on Saturday. That was followed by a 6-2 thumping at the hands of Yarmouth on Tuesday night.

“I told the kids we’re going to remember this game (against Messalonskee). Let’s make it count,” Kennebec coach Jon Hart said. “In the end, this might be the best thing that happened to us.

“It was 4-0, we were rolling. Then a little mistake, a little breakdown, a little letdown. If we can’t handle pucks, we can’t win games. We’d have scoring opportunity, whiff on the puck and now they have a breakaway. I thought it was some immature play, but overall it’s fixable.”

Hart entered the season with questions about his team’s depth beyond its top line of Cody Ivey, Nate Newgard and Brandon Mason. Against the Eagles, that trio accounted for all seven RiverHawk goals, including three each from Newgard and Mason.

Those question marks remained following the season-opening loss.

“It was depth,” Hart said. “We’re still trying to figure out where to put everybody. You let a team get that life and we didn’t just keep rolling. I really think this is going to be a really good learning opportunity for us.”

 

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The Winslow/Gardiner/Cony girls are off to a 3-1-0 start, despite playing three of its first four away from home. … The early leader in boys Class B North is Camden Hills, a surprise entrant in the regional semifinals a year ago. The Windjammers swept Presque Isle and Houlton last weekend. … Two of the three teams in B North didn’t open their schedules until Wednesday night, with Gardiner at Messalonskee and the Capital Region Hawks at Gray/New Gloucester/Leavitt/Poland/Oak Hill. Old Town/Orono waits until this Saturday, when it travels to Class A opponent Portland/Deering.

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