FOXBORO, Mass. – Canton head coach Brian Shuman planned on easing Eamon Kelly back into the lineup after the sophomore forward missed the past four games with an injury.
But that plan didn’t last long as Kelly’s time on ice quickly increased into regular shifts, and that ended up working out just fine for the Bulldogs.
Kelly scored the game-winning goal less than two minutes into the third period in his first game back as Canton grinded out a 2-0 win over Mansfield after an empty net goal in the final minute.
“He gives good energy and we’ve missed that energy guy so far this year…and he brings it,” Shuman said. “I was really happy for him, he’s a hard worker and he deserved that [goal]. He’s been hurt for most of the season so far and we tried to ease him in but that lasted about half a period and we threw him out there in regular shifts.”
After 30 minutes of back-and-forth, up-and-down the ice at the Foxboro Sports Center, neither team had a goal to show for. Both Canton goalie Joe Cammarata (21 saves) and the Bulldog defense along with the Hornet blue line unit and goalie Sean McCafferty (28 saves) had done their part with the game scoreless heading into the final period.
Canton needed just 1:40 to break the deadlock at the beginning of the third period. Junior Donny McNeice won possession behind the net and quickly tossed a pass in front. The puck took a fortunate deflection off of a Hornet stick and fell right to Kelly, who made no doubt about it to put the Dogs up 1-0.
“We showed some promise in the second period towards the end, started to play better,” Shuman said. “I just think for our psyche we had to get a goal early in the third. Some of our guys are trying to score every time they touch the ice and putting a lot of pressure on themselves. They just need to go out there and outwork the other team and the opportunities will come.
“We’ve had to work for all of them, there hasn’t been an easy [game] all year. Credit to Mansfield, they are a good team, Mike does a good job with them. They had four lines going, they brought a lot of energy and they took it to us in the first half of the game. A typical game against Mansfield, they always bring their ‘A’ game and play hard, play tough. That was a good hockey game.”
The remainder of the third played out similar to the first two periods with both teams clogging passing lanes and applying a lot of pressure, making it tough for either team to connect more than a pass or two in a row.
Canton Johnny Hagan had the best chance of the period to double the advantage. The senior forward used his speed to race around a defenseman before cutting back in front of goal, just missing the inside the post.
Mansfield’s best chance at an equalizer came in the final two minutes. Senior Ben Ierardo ripped a shot from the blue line that was saved by Cammarata and covered as a pair of Hornets poked at the loose puck on the doorstep.
Canton senior Shane Marshall won a foot race to a loose puck and went in alone and tucked in an empty net goal with 34 seconds to play to secure the win.
“They are very skilled, they work hard, they are well-coached, Brian is a great coach,” said Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini of the Bulldogs. “We knew the task at hand but we had two really good days of practice leading up to the game. We did all the little things right, winning faceoffs especially in the defensive end was huge for us. Overall I thought we played really well.”
While it was during the infancy of the game, a pair of power plays in the opening five minutes might have been the Hornets’ best chances.
Going up a man just over a man, Mansfield’s best chance of the first power play came on a slap shot from senior Joseph Troiano but Cammarata was equal to the task.
Just seconds after killing its first penalty, Canton was whistled for its second trip of the game. Senior Chris Jenkins put a shot on goal with classmate Kevin Bellanger on the doorstep trying to bury the rebound, but the Hornets couldn’t find the back of the net.
Canton went on the power play late in the first period but the first two chances of that stretch went to the Hornets. Lund had a partial breakaway turned aside by Cammarata and Jenkins put his shot over the net after a steal in the neutral zone.
The middle period featured more chances for each side but nothing past either Cammarata of McCafferty. Belanger gained some space with a nice move but Cammarata saw it the entire way for the glove save.
Midway through the period, Canton’s fourth line produced a great chance with sophomore Sam Carlino linking up with senior Dom Cammarata but his bid was denied. A minute later, senior Jack Connolly had a blast knocked down and gobbled up by McCafferty.
“Our fourth line played great, they turned the tide for us,” Shuman said. “We gave them regular shifts the second half of the game because they earned it. Sam Carlino, Dylan Coyne, and Dom Cammarata…they played great and they deserve credit for helping us grind that one out.
Mansfield sophomore Kyle Oakley had a turn around wrist shot denied with four minutes left in the period and Cammarata had his best stop of the day, denying a wrist shot from Braedon Copparini with his stick on a chance in transition.
“We’ve been struggling the first five minutes of each game so I gave our green line, which is our fourth line [Dillon Benoit, Ryan Doherty, Jake Berdine], the start. And they responded great. We’ve been having trouble setting the tone and they certainly helped us tonight. We had two early power plays early with some good looks but overall I thought we played well.”
Canton boys hockey (2-0 Hockomock, 6-0-2 overall) wrapped up a three-game road trip with the win and returns home on Saturday to begin a three-game home stretch, starting with King Philip. Mansfield (1-1, 3-3-1) is back in action on Thursday at Brown University against Barrington.