No matter what happens,  2019-2020 is a season of improvement for the Messalonskee boys hockey team.

Just two years removed from finishing the year with eight players, as well as finishing with a record of 1-17-0 last season, the Eagles are off to an excellent start. Just five games in, Messalonskee has a 3-1-1 record. This includes a 4-1 win over Camden Hills — currently the top team in the Class B North standings — on the road Dec. 14. As of press time, the Eagles are fifth in the regional standings.

Gardiner’s Jake Weston, back, battles for the puck with Messalonskee’s Myles Hammond (2) in the first period last month at Alfond Arena at Colby College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“This year, I think the kids are just taking it one game at a time, one shift at a time,” Messalonskee coach Kevin Castner said. “They went into (the Camden Hills game) and put in the work, followed the game plan and came out with a win… My statement to the kids is ‘Every game is going to be a battle.’ We’re going to have to go in and fight for every piece of success that we want.”

Part of the Messalonskee’s success would have to be the return of senior forward Dylan Cunningham, who spent the past two seasons playing junior hockey. Cunningham is currently the leading scorer through the first five games, notching nine goals and four assists.

“Dylan is a great player, he fits in well with the team,” Castner said. “The team is working well with him, they’re working together as a line. He definitely adds depth to the team. He makes the other players work harder, which is always a benefit, too.”

Cunningham has certainly had help on the offensive end, as senior Myles Hammond has added 11 points (five goals, six assists) to start the year. Goaltender Mitchell Grant has also been solid between the pipes, with a  record of 3-0-1 in four games.

Though the Eagles have practiced during holiday break, it’s been some time since they have played in a game. By the time Messalonskee hits the ice against Marshwood/Traip/Sanford/Noble on Saturday at the Dover Ice Arena in New Hampshire, it will be the first time the Eagles have played competitively since Dec. 21, a stretch of exactly two weeks.

“The routine is broken, they’re not going to practice and then going to school and going to games,” Castner said. “There’s a little bit of a break in consistency there. With kids, when their schedules change, you never really know what can happen. All I’m looking for is the kids to show up, compete at the highest level that they can, and where the chips fall, they fall. We’re not looking for anything further than our next game. That’s as far as we’re looking and that’s been our mentality from the start.”

 

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Though the season is early, nearly all the boys hockey teams in the area have enjoyed success and are among the top eight teams in the Class B North standings.

Leading the pack is Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth, currently second — and owner of the most wins in the region — with a 5-2-0 record. The Rams had some early struggles against No. 1 Camden Hills and suffered an 8-2 loss to the Kennebec (Waterville/Winslow) RiverHawks on Dec. 18. But they’ve also notched close victories over rival Gardiner and the Capital Region (Maranacook/Winthrop/Madison/Lawrence/Spruce Mountain) Hawks. Cony also earned a 5-4 overtime victory over Brewer on Dec. 28.

As noted above, Messalonskee sits at No. 5 in the standings, led by its win over Camden Hills. Kennebec sits right behind the Eagles at No. 6 with a 1-5-0 record. The RiverHawks are hoping to get a charge on offense after scoring one goal in its last two games.

Gardiner is at No. 7 with a 2-2-0 record. The Tigers have picked up wins over Kennebunk/Wells and Messalonskee, and lost close battles with both Cony and Camden Hills, giving a small hint that they can compete with the top teams in the standings. Sitting just outside the top eight squads is Capital Region, currently No. 10 with a 1-2-0 record. While it may be a small sample size, the Hawks have battled to a 2-1 loss with Cony early in the season. Capital Region picked up its win in a 1-0 victory over Leavitt/Gray-New Gloucester/Oak Hill/Poland on Dec. 11.

 

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In girls hockey, Winslow/Gardiner/Cony is currently just outside the top six teams in the region for playoff contention. The No. 7 Black Tigers are owners of a 4-4-0 record. With the exception of a 7-1 loss to St. Dominic/Winthrop/Gray-New Gloucester on Dec. 14, the Black Tigers have been competitive in each of its games. They’ve also shown an ability to score, notching a total of 13 goals in both of their wins over Brunswick, and picked up a 6-3 win over Gorham/Bonny Eagle/Massabesic/Westbrook on Dec. 7.

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