LEWISTON — Same teams. Same result.
For the second straight season, Messalonskee and Gorham met for the Class B state championship, and for the second straight year the Eagles lifted the trophy, defeating the Rams, 7-2, on Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee to defend their title.
The game was much closer than the final score indicated as Gorham held a 2-1 lead going into the third period, frustrating the East’s No. 1 seed, who hadn’t lost to a Class B opponent all season. The Eagles haven’t had much experience playing from behind either.
“It’s definitely not a good feeling being down, but it makes you want to work even harder,” Messalonskee’s Jake Dexter said. “We knew our offense would put up points so we were pretty confident in that and that’s why we play 45 minutes.”
Held in check through the first 26 minutes, Messalonskee’s top line of Dexter, Brandon Nale and Jared Cunningham rolled off seven unanswered goals — six in the third period — to climb out of a 2-0 hole. Cunningham netted a third-period hat trick and Dexter and Nale each scored twice.
“They know each other real well,” Messalonskee coach Joe Hague said. “They’ve been playing together for quite a long time. They have a great chemistry. They work the puck well and they can also finish. Putting them together was just a no-brainer.”
Dexter opened the third-period scoring barrage at 2:21 on the power play to tie the game. Dexter swatted in a rebound on the doorstep off a shot from Nale, and Nale came back three minutes later with a sharp-angle shot from the red line that hit off the near post and trickled over the goal line past Gorham goaltender Noah Bird.
With the Eagles (20-1) in front for the first time, they seized the momentum.. Cunningham scored three of the next four goals for Messalonskee. He carried the puck the length of the ice and slid a shot past Bird for the first, went top shelf for the second and delivered an exclamation point for the third with four seconds left.
Nale collected his second goal after Cunningham’s first, burying a Dexter rebound with 3:47 to go, making it 5-2.
Messalonskee’s top line accounted for 11 of the team’s 17 points. Dylan Burton had three assists.
“Those guys are the best,” Dexter said of his linemates. “They’re so easy to play with, and I’m just fortunate to keep up with them and they’ll get you the puck whenever. Those guys are my best buddies.”
Gorham (14-6-2) put the defending state champions in an early hole, scoring 15 seconds into its first power-play opportunity of the contest at 2:27 of the first period. After Messalonskee’s Devin Pickett was sent to the box for hooking, Gorham’s Carl Bear wristed a shot through a screen from the left circle, beating Eagles goaltender Elija Tuell far post.
“We played two of the best periods we’ve played all season,” Gorham coach John Portwine said. “There’s no question about it, those were the two best periods we’ve played all season. That’s just a quality opponent. They did what they do. I thought if we could get out to an early lead, get a jump on them, they’d be in unfamiliar territory but to their credit they didn’t.”
The Rams doubled their advantage on a fortuitous bounce that led to a short-handed breakaway for Travis Mansir.
A clearing attempt around the boards by Gorham came right out to Burton, but the puck hopped over his stick, leading to Mansir’s opportunity. Skating in on net all alone with no one but the goalie to beat, Mansir lifted a shot over Tuell’s blocker to stake the Rams to a 2-0 lead with 8:28 left in the second period. Mansir scored the game-winning goal with 1:30 left against Kennebunk in the regional final on Wednesday.
“They came out flying,” Hague said. “No doubt about it. They came out ready to play. I think our boys were a little nervous coming in. However, once we got the pace down to where we were happy with and we started transitioning better and everything started falling into place. The kids are used to having a lead so coming back from one is even better. They didn’t give up.”
Messalonskee broke through with 3:41 left in the second period to finally get the wheels moving. Nale hit Dexter with a circle-to-circle pass and Dexter one-timed a shot past Bird. The flood gates opened not long after that.
The Eagles held a 36-23 edge in shots and outshot the Rams 26-15 over the final two periods.
Bird finished with 29 saves. Tuell made 21 stops.