CANTON, Mass. – Although Canton won when the teams faced each other near the end of the regular season, the Bulldogs still remembered how it felt when Algonquin found the back of the net in overtime of the 2022 Div. 2 title game and there was still a desire to fully avenge that loss.
On Thursday night at the Canton Ice House, the Bulldogs got the opportunity for revenge and they took it.
Behind a stellar performance from senior goalie Carolyn Durand (21 saves) and a pair of goals from freshmen, Canton knocked Algonquin out of the tournament with a 3-0 victory and, in the process, booked a return to the D2 Final Four.
“This game was definitely our revenge game,” said senior Audrey Koen. “This time with the stakes and taking a little piece away from them that they took from us last year, I think everyone had it in their mind that this was our time and we’re the better team. We’ve all come so far and we work so hard together and we’re going to do it for each other.”
Canton got off to a strong start, putting the pressure on the Algonquin defense by getting the puck deep, letting the forecheck get to work, and using the defense to pinch in at the blue line to maintain possession. It led to a 9-4 edge in shots in the first.
The first good chance came after six minutes, when freshman Kayleigh Koen’s shot from the point was tipped in front by Anna Lehan. Algonquin goalie Kaitlin Mathews was able to get a pad on the puck and quickly covered up. It took more than 10 minutes for the Titans to create a quality chance, with Olivia Bower’s shot from the point forcing a late kick save from Durand.
Pressure started to mount in the closing minutes of the first, as Canton had a flurry of chances. Freshman Izzy Cusack won the puck along the right wing boards and fired a wrister that Mathews managed to get a blocker to, with Audrey Koen following up but not getting full purchase on the rebound.
Ellie Bohane forced another blocker save from a tough angle and then, with Canton on the power play, she found herself in the slot with shooting space, but narrowly missed the top corner. With just seconds left in the first, Algonquin nearly stole the lead, as Emily Johns took advantage of a turnover for a shorthanded breakaway, but Durand stood tall to make the stop as the horn sounded.
“Her biggest strength is she’s just cool and ready and willing and wants to win so badly for her teammates that she will do anything to stop that puck,” Canton coach Nikki Petrich said of Durand.
Canton came out strong to start the second. Three minutes in, the Bulldogs finally got the breakthrough. Koen, who had a good shot saved a minute before, created the chance when she circled behind the net and flicked a pass out in front. Cusack was in the slot and managed to not only settle the puck but then chip it up over the goalie to make it 1-0.
“These freshmen are incredible,” said Koen. “They came into this team and they just clicked right away. I think all of these freshmen have stepped right into place. They don’t play like freshman, they play like they’ve been here for three or four years.”
The hosts had some chances to try and double the lead. Bohane sacrificed herself to block a shot in the defensive zone and that gave Lehan the chance to get out into open ice. As the back check reached her, Lehan spun onto her backhand and forced a save out of Mathews.
With six minutes left in the second, Devan Spinale’s shot from the point skidded wide but Bohane chased it down and snapped off a quick shot that went off the goalie’s skates and stayed out.
Algonquin sensed that it needed to step up its work in the offensive zone and had several chances in the final five minutes of the period. The best opportunity fell to Harper Ruderman, but Durand was in perfect position to make the point-blank stop. Maya Battista nearly doubled the Canton lead shortly after when she fired one from the point but Mathews stuck out the blocker and got a piece of it.
There was a different intensity about Algonquin in the third. The defending champs were on the front foot for the first time in the game, with Johns coming closest on a redirection that slid just wide of the bottom corner.
While the visitors were pressing forward in search of an equalizer, Canton struck again. The Bulldogs had several chances in close succession and finally freshman Christina Curran pounced on a loose puck and slammed the rebound just inside the post to give Canton that crucial two-goal cushion.
“Depth is huge and we want to give every girl an opportunity to play,” Petrich said about Curran, the third-line center getting on the board. “To get the experience, you have to have the opportunity. When other girls can step up and provide scoring opportunities, as well as not get scored on, it’s great.”
Petrich also noted that two freshmen scored for the Bulldogs. She added, “The seniors have done an exceptional job off the ice of welcoming the freshmen and making them feel a part of the team, a part of a family. They’re able to really build that chemistry off the ice and translate that on the ice.”
Most of the remainder of the game was played in the Canton zone. Algonquin had three power play opportunities in the third and was playing with the desperation of a team that saw its season on the brink. But, Durand stood in the Titans’ way and the Hockomock League MVP was equal to the task, making 11 saves in the third, including one off the mask from Johns and then again sticking out the blocker to stop a fierce wrister.
“She definitely plays a huge role in why we’re so good,” Koen said about Durand. “We know that she’s going to make the big saves and that we’re going to make the big plays in the offensive zone. I love how we all come together.”
With just 22.5 on the clock, Koen got free at the blue line, skated the length of the ice, and deposited an empty net goal that finished off the Titans and sent the Bulldogs to the next round.
“It was incredible,” Koen said about scoring the final goal. “I was just trying not to miss. I just wanted to make sure that it went in and just being able to feel that feeling and know that we’re putting it away was awesome.”
Canton (18-2-4) will face top seed Archbishop Williams, who the Bulldogs also beat in the regular season, on Saturday evening at Gallo Ice Arena.
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