CANTON, Mass. – Sometimes, especially during the early rounds of the tournament, a team needs to find its footing, overcome some postseason jitters, and grind out a result. It may not be the prettiest win, but at this stage of the season all that matters is finding a way to advance to the next round.
On Thursday night at the Metropolis Rink, Canton wasn’t at its free-flowing best, but the Bulldogs had enough to hold off an upset bid from No. 30 seed Medford. Canton got a pair of goals in the second period and tacked on a shorthanded tally in the third to pull out the 3-0 win and reach the Div. 2 Sweet Sixteen.
“A lot of teams, if you look at the past few nights, sort of struggle in these early-round games, especially teams that put pressure on themselves and these guys certainly did,” explained Canton coach Brian Shuman. “I give Medford credit. They’re a good team and they really played us hard and played us well.”
The Bulldogs wasted no time taking the initiative, outshooting the Mustangs 13-5 in the first, but Canton was struggling to create clear-cut chances and get bodies in front of Medford goalie John Nocella (34 saves).
Matt Anderson had a good early shot from the point that was kicked aside and Kevin LaBellee charged down the rebound only to have that gloved. James Young created a scoring chance with a nice outlet pass up the boards to Jeffrey Chaput, but the shot was kicked away and AJ Thomas was unable to connect on the rebound.
Medford nearly sprung a surprise when it got behind the Canton defense, but Griffin Hughes raced back and made a key intervention to prevent a breakaway. Jack Digirolamo came close with a shot from the slot that was blockered over the bar, but the Mustangs had the best chance of the period when Tyler Taddia forced a save out of Colin Davis and Louis Pucillo appeared to hit the post as he sent the rebound back through the crease.
Brendan Tourgee made a nice play with the puck in the defensive zone to get into open ice and then weaved his way through traffic before putting a backhand shot on target from close range with just 25 seconds left in the first.
Canton was in need of a spark and Digirolamo provided a lift with a big hit along the blue line, which seemed to give the bench much-needed energy.
“Digi this year for us, when we needed a goal, needed a big play, or in this game needed a physical presence, he provided it,” Shuman said. “Whatever we needed, he gave us, and this game we needed someone to match their physicality and he sure did.”
While the shot total was just about the same as the first, Canton looked much more fluid offensively in the second and puck movement was a key reason why.
Shuman said, “A lot of times in a playoff game, especially the first one, people are trying to be the hero early and score two goals with one shot. I thought the second period we moved the puck a lot better. Sometimes when the nerves kick in, your first instinct is to throw it at the net, so hopefully we got that nervousness out of the way and be better in the next game.”
Digirolamo teed up Colin Blake right on the edge of the crease, but his tip was saved. Less than a minute later, Canton got its breakthrough. Teddy Shuman’s shot from the point was blocked in front, but Travis Thomas managed to scoop the loose puck up and over the stretching goalie to make it 1-0.
With 6:40 left in the period, AJ Thomas showed great patience against the near side boards, holding the puck and waiting for space to make a pass. Finally, a crease opened up and he was able to pick out Chaput in front for a tip that made it 2-0.
Canton’s passing was creating a lot of good looks. Tourgee set up Thomas for a chance that was saved and the duo combined again with Tourgee having his tip turned aside. Thomas also had a shot that caromed off the end boards right to Young, who was pinching in and forced another save.
It looked like the Bulldogs were going to cruise to victory, but the Mustangs came out for the third intent on getting back into the game. After compiling nine shots through the first two periods, Medford put 12 shots on Davis in the third.
Carsten Mangan took advantage of a turnover and fired a shot from the right wing that Davis fought off, DJ McDonough had a shot that deflected in front and clipped the post, and Devon Page had a bid from the slot that Davis got his pad onto. He finished with 21 saves to record the shutout.
The game was effectively put away with 7:46 to go. On the penalty kill, Brian Middleton made a play at the blue line, broke free, and buried his breakaway opportunity to give the Bulldogs a three-goal cushion.
“Colin played well, made some big saves,” Shuman said. “Sadly that’s been a theme this year, the dreaded two-goal lead. It’s a cliche but sometimes cliches turn into reality. We need to find ways to bear down and get that third, such a crucial goal in a game, especially when you’re on a team and pressuring them.”
Canton (18-4-0) will take on No. 19 Wilmington, which beat No. 14 Masconomet, on Saturday night at the Canton Ice House.
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