CANTON, Mass. – When the current crop of Canton seniors were freshmen, they were part of a tournament run that ended with a berth in the final and being named the Div. 2 co-champions. After yet another run to the TD Garden last winter, the program’s third title game in five seasons, the senior class brings plenty of playoff nous to the ice each game.
Of course, adding a new group of talented freshmen ready to step into the spotlight that comes with trying to continue the recent playoff success certainly helps.
Canton’s blend of senior savvy and youthful energy was on full display on Wednesday night at the Metropolis Rink. With two goals from seniors and two more from freshmen, the Bulldogs beat Westwood 4-1 to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
“They have the experience from playoffs and from the regular season this year,” said Canton coach Nikki Petrich. “Several games we’ve been up [and the other team came back]. It’s a long hockey game. We know we’re going to score, they’re going to score, but it’s who’s going to finish the battle to the end.”
The game could have been a much bigger win, but Westwood goalie Marissa Poma finished with 37 saves, many of them spectacular.
Canton came out flying in the first period, nearly finding the back of the net inside the opening two minutes when freshman Kayleigh Koen slipped a pass across the crease to Izzy Crugnale, only for Poma to somehow stretch and get a pad on the shot. Tori Carr had a shot from the point saved and Poma was able to cover up when Lilah Spinelli crashed the net to get on the rebound.
The breakthrough came on the power play. Senior Maya Battista collected the puck on the right point, picked her spot, and flung a shot towards the far post. Canton had plenty of bodies in front and the puck flew past Poma and inside the post.
“February was tough for us,” said Petrich, referencing Canton’s strong schedule, “but we didn’t start the games as hard, fast, and strong as I wanted us to, so that was the emphasis here starting playoffs was to really get after it, but their goalie just played phenomenal. All the credit to her. I tried to give her a hug because she played phenomenal.”
Westwood finally got going after falling behind, although Canton would finish the first with a 15-4 edge in shots on goal. Four minutes after allowing the opener, the visitors leveled the score. Freshman Livvy Hicks sent a knuckling puck through a crowd and over the shoulder of goalie Carolyn Durand to make it 1-1.
Audrey Koen nearly restored the lead with a nice wraparound attempt on her backhand, but Poma made the save. With less than 30 seconds left in the first, freshman Izzy Cusack stole the puck in the offensive zone and got the puck into the slot to Koen, who partially fanned on the shot but managed to put it on frame only for Ava Krouson to block the shot on the line.
Durand was called into action early in the second, making a nice glove save on a Kate Sullivan effort. Cusack nearly put the Bulldogs in front, but her chipped shot from close range clipped the bar on its way across the net.
With 9:33 to go in the second, Kayleigh Koen scored what turned out to be the game-winner. She pinched in from the blue line, blocking a chip up the boards and keeping possession. Koen pushed up the left wing boards and cut towards goal, forcing a pad stop from Poma. The puck squirted out in front and Koen was able, on the second attempt, to redirect it into the open net.
“No longer a freshman and no stranger to big moments,” Petrich said about Koen. “Big players step up in big moments and that’s what she does for us every time. Her ability to skate with the puck as a defenseman, she’s so offensive-minded but so strong and solid on the blue line you almost don’t expect it.”
Poma continued to excel, keeping Canton from extending the lead on the power play. Battista had another good look from the point and Ellie Bohane pounced on the rebound, but the goalie stuffed the point-blank chance. Battista then tried to follow up with a quick wrister, but Poma recovered in time to glove it.
Canton started the third period on the kill, but it didn’t stop the Bulldogs from continuing to pepper the Westwood goal. Cusack had a good chance almost directly from the face-off, and Poma also had to be alert to stop the rebound as well. Bohane would come close after good work by Audrey Koen down the wing and a nifty behind-the-back-pass into the slot, but the shot went either off Poma’s glove or the post and stayed out.
Another dominant start to a period finally paid off with a goal. Freshman Georgia-Ann Penders, who was injured to start the season, made a perfect pass across the crease to classmate Abby Stock. Stock was able to pick the five-hole and give the Bulldogs a two-goal cushion.
With 4:34 to go, Canton wrapped up the win. This time, it was the seniors who got on the score sheet. Bohane raced out on a two-on-one, drew the defender, and saucered a pass to Koen on her right. Koen ripped a shot into the top corner to book Canton’s place in the next round.
“The message from me is always to play the right way, which is passing the puck,” Petrich explained. “Several times we came out of the corner right here and we missed the net, and it’s a breakout. I said, listen, play hockey the right way, smarter hockey, move the puck. I said, stop playing hero hockey and start playing smarter hockey.”
Canton (16-2-4) will face the winner of No. 13 Milton and No. 20 Framingham on Saturday night at the Canton Ice House. The time is to be determined.