BROCKTON, Mass. – Standing in the hallway outside the locker room after the game, Canton coach Brian Shuman did not look pleased. His team had just advanced in the state tournament, but he admitted that the Bulldogs had been outplayed by North Attleboro in Saturday afternoon’s Div. 2 South quarterfinal.
Despite being second best on the night, the Bulldogs scored off a deflection, off a loose puck in the slot, and on an empty net and got 25 saves from senior goalie Justin Slocum to pull out a 3-0 win.
“They outplayed us and I think they really carried the play for long stretches of the game and we did what we had to do to win the game and that started in net with Justin Slocum,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman.
The Rocketeers started the game with high intensity and their force-check paid almost immediate benefits with Erik Clements and Andrew Casson driving to the net off Canton turnovers only to be denied by Slocum and heads up play by defensemen Jackson Maffeo and C.J. Martin.
While the Canton defense was doing its job in clearing rebounds and denying chances at the back post, it was struggling to get the puck up ice.
North coach Steve Snizek said, “We were anticipating their breakout and were trying to forecheck the hell out them really so to not give them enough time to break out and hopefully make them make a mistake, which they did at times and we just couldn’t capitalize.”
Shuman was effusive in his praise for the Rocketeers and their 2-1-2 forecheck. He said, “They were all over us. Those first two guys in the zone were absolutely flying and they gave us very little time to get back to the puck and to get the breakout going.”
The North pressure was causing problems but there was no goal to show for it and with 3:45 left in the first, Canton took the lead against the run of play. Martin played the puck across the zone to Jim Jenkins and the senior threw the puck towards the back post where it appeared to take a decisive deflection to beat North’s freshman goalie Ryan Warren (25 saves).
“Sometimes it’s about the bounce of the puck,” said Shuman. “We’ve struggled to score goals this year and we just try to get to the puck to the net but [Warren] is an exceptional young goalie and he’s going to be good for years to come.”
Slocum made the lead hold up into the first intermission when he managed to get post to post to stop a close-range shot by Brian Poilluci who was set up by Clements.
The second period was even with North continuing to force the action, but without any end product. The Rocketeers only managed seven shots in the second despite more possession and trailed 20-15 in shots heading to the third.
The game continued in a similar mode until there was 6:26 remaining. Jenkins tried to take the puck into the middle but lost control. Luckily for the Bulldogs it eluded two North players and found its way to Tommy Kilduff in the slot and he managed to squeeze the puck under Warren for the crucial second.
“I feel bad for our team,” Snizek reflected. “[Canton] got the luck today and we did not, but it’s part of hockey. You have to take the good with the bad. “
North had two power play chances in the final four minutes and managed one good chance when the puck was deflected in front of Slocum and the goalie had to keep his head and bat away the chance.
With 13.6 on the clock and North skating five-on-four with Warren on the bench, Shaun Kirby wrapped up the victory for the Bulldogs with an empty net goal.
A few years ago, North Attleboro and Canton met at the same rink and at the same stage of the tournament but with very different expectations. That night, Canton also won but the fact that the game was close surprised many. No one was surprised on Saturday that the Rocketeers were in it to the end.
“This program has turned around immensely,” said Snizek. “It used to be that playing North was a point but now it’s a game. I’m very proud of the whole program.”
The Bulldogs are moving on and will be in the Div. 2 South semifinal for the fourth straight season.
Shuman said, “I told them in the locker room that I was proud of them because in all the years that I’ve been here you need one of those games in the state tournament where you have to find a way to win and grind it out and that’s what they did.”
Canton (16-2-4) advances to face Scituate at Gallo Arena in Bourne on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.