Messalonskee’s Dylan Cunningham (12) scores on John Bapst goalie Loukas Collatos (1) last season at Colby College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

He scored more goals than anyone in Class B North. He finished second in the overall scoring race in the region. And his four-point night in the opening round of the playoffs propelled Messalonskee High School to its first postseason win in four years.

But that’s not why Messalonskee senior Dylan Cunningham has been chosen as the Central Maine Newspaper’s Hockey Player of the Year. Cunningham brought something else to the Eagles this season, something that had been missing as the program went through a rebuilding period.

“We knew we were going to be able to compete one way or another,” Messalonskee senior captain Ben Hellen said. “But having Dylan back, that was reassuring that he was committed to our team and that we could have a really good year.”

Cunningham finished with 37 goals in the regular season to go along with 18 assists. The statistics, as impressive as they were, only told a small slice of the overall story.

After competing for his school’s team as a freshman in 2016-17, the left wing opted to focus on junior hockey the following two winters and didn’t play for Messalonskee again until his senior year. He made up for lost time.

“I was just trying to give it all for my senior season and help get the program back on track,” Cunningham said. “I mean, to finish with upwards of 40 goals — it didn’t feel like that at all (during the season). Some games, you’d just be going and you’d be in the right spot and the puck would find your stick.”

The Cunningham bloodlines, at least as they course through central Maine’s high school hockey scene, are accomplished. Both of Cunningham’s older brothers — Chase and Jared — led Messalonskee to Class B state championships. Both, like Dylan, were named Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference players of the year. And, like Dylan, Chase was the Morning Sentinel Player of the Year in 2014.

Chase set the Messalonskee career scoring record in 2014, only to be eclipsed by Jared — who finished with more than 150 points — two years later.

“Of course, everyone compared stats and stuff (with my brothers), but I wasn’t ever looking at that,” Dylan said. “What they did for Messalonskee and bringing pride in both the school and the program, that’s what I wanted to do, too.”

Messalonskee head coach Kevin Castner believes Cunningham is one of the most selfless players he’s ever coached.

“He’s definitely a team player. His goal is always for the team to succeed, not for him to succeed, and he’s right in line with that family in that way,” Castner said. “The team has always come first.

“There’s 19 kids on that bench, and Dylan is only one of them. Does he have positive effect? Yes, but is he the the only kid having an effect? No. Does he inspire us to be better? Absolutely. He pushes the other kids. Kids want to be like him.”

Hellen and Myles Hammond benefited from Cunningham’s presence this season.

The trio formed one of Class B’s most formidable lines, combining for more than 60 goals and 130 points between them during the 18-game regular season.

“He has the best stick work I’ve ever seen,” Hellen said of Cunningham. “He creates so much time and space, without having to take himself out of the play. He’s definitely a quiet leader, and he never talks about his accomplishments. He’s just worried about the team.”

“I’ve always just tried to make people around me better,” Cunningham said. “It’s about moving the puck, not always taking it for myself, and getting guys to move without the puck. That’s what the game is, right? Even on my travel teams it’s the same — it’s about reading the ice and putting myself in the right position to make the right play.”

Cunningham will attend Thomas College in the fall, where he expects to study business.

“I guess I want to try and figure out how things work in the real world,” he said.

He’s already figured out how the hockey world works.


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