BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. — Ever since Canton and Newburyport faced off in back-to-back state championship games in 2009 and 2010, the two storied programs have played one another during the regular season.
For the first time since then, the two squads squared off again in the postseason. And similar to how this year’s regular season meeting went, Canton emerged with a shutout win.
Junior Colin Blake and senior Jeff Chaput scored second period goals and the third-seeded Bulldogs notched a 2-0 win over the sixth-seeded Clippers to book a spot in the Division 2 Final Four for the second straight season.
“It felt almost workmanlike,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman about his team’s performance. “We have so much respect for [Newburyport], me and Paul Yameen go way back, we’ve played each other since meeting in the finals. There’s a tremendous amount of respect that these two programs have for each other. I can’t say enough about their program, they play a tough hard-nosed, blue-collar type of hockey and you can’t help but appreciate it as a coach. It was a good hockey game.”
The Bulldogs earned a 2-0 win on the road in mid-January over the Clippers and have had Newburyport’s number lately, going 6-0-2 since the start of the 2015 season.
The familiarity was apparent from the opening faceoff as the Clippers made things difficult for the Bulldogs. Newburyport was clogging both passing and shooting lanes and their forecheck was doing just enough to disrupt Canton’s rhythm working out of their own zone.
Scoring chances were at a premium early with a mix of blocked shots, deflected passes, and a lot of neutral zone battles. As the period went on, the teams worked to find opportunities and the best chance for both sides came inside the final five minutes.
For Canton, it was junior Brian Middleton that unleashed a low shot through some traffic that was turned aside by Newburyport goalie Jameson Brooks with a pad save and the big rebound ended up just outside the reach of the stick of Jack Digirolamo. Seconds later, the Clippers had their best chance when Kane Brennan got an open shot off but Canton goalie Colin Davis gobbled it up.
The Clippers went on the power play for the final 48 seconds of the opening period but a clearance from Chaput followed by good offensive zone pressure from James Young and Blake kept the game scoreless at the horn.
After killing 72 seconds of power play to start the second period, Canton really tilted the ice in its favor with heavy pressure. Newburyport was unable to sustain any offensive zone time and managed just one shot on goal in the frame.
Canton went on its first power play just over three minutes into the period and needed just over a minute to take advantage. Junior Brendan Tourgee gained the zone with a creative self pass off the boards, skated behind the net, and dished a pass out to the blue line to junior Matt Anderson. Anderson stepped into a big shot and Blake, positioned right in front of the goal, got his stick on it with a great redirect to beat Brooks for a 1-0 lead with 10:46 to go in the second period.
Another Canton power play was canceled out with a slash but Newburyport couldn’t muster anything up with their 68 seconds on the man advantage.
The Bulldogs grabbed a second goal before the end of the period as Tourgee teed up senior Leo Owens for a blast from the blue line. Brooks made the initial stop but Chaput was in the right spot and lifted a backhand past the goalie to make it 2-0 with 1:50 left in the second period.
“Strangely enough, I think you try and forget the first meeting,” Shuman said. “That first game was not a 3-0 game, it could have gone either way. In both games, we got a couple of bounces and they didn’t. That’s what always happens when we play them, I don’t think there’s been a game we’ve played them with the winning team more than three goals. It’s always tight checking, a tight defensive game. You can see it on the kid’s faces, they are just working, working, working and when you’re working that hard, it can be hard to have room left for that euphoria, that emotion.”
Canton continued to quell any and every Newburyport foray into the offensive zone. Davis came up with one of the biggest stops of the game with 6:35 left, denying Brennan on a point-blank chance. Beyond that, Canton’s defense did a great job limiting further opportunities.
“The defense was outstanding,” Shuman said. “It’s similar to how we played last game against Wilmington, really limiting shots and getting the puck out of our zone quickly. Sometimes the best defense is to bring the puck up well and we really did that well in the second. We tensed up a little bit in the third and had some turnovers, but Colin was there to back us and bail us out.”
Canton’s three-game shutout streak so far in the playoffs will face a major test in the Division 2 Final Four against #2 Duxbury. The Dragons have outscored opponents 22-0 so far in three playoff games. The time, date, and location for that matchup are still to be announced.
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