Sophomore Jeffrey Chaput got that one chance in the second period and buried it in the top corner and it turned out to be all that the Bulldogs would need. Canton added an empty net goal in the final minute and skated to a 2-0 victory over North Attleboro that puts the teams in a tie for first in the Davenport division.
“North Attleboro does a great job blocking shots, they always have,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “They sell out, they take away the shooting lanes. Also a failure on our part, too many shots above the knees, which are the easiest shots to block. We have to keep it low, along the ice, and find shooting lanes. Stop trying to go top shelf on their goalie and try to create more rebound opportunities.”
It was an even game, despite Canton’s edge in shots on goal. Both teams came out flying and the Bulldogs showed no rust from having a week off between games.
Shuman explained, “We’ve been fortunate enough to be skating normally, so I think that in itself is keeping us in a good flow and a good rhythm. We’re just lucky to be playing right now because there are a lot of teams that unfortunately aren’t.”
Jack Digirolamo sprung Brendan Tourgee down the left wing for an early chance that was saved by North goalie Kyle Gruber (23 saves). Andrew Valkanas stayed with the puck after his initial shot was blocked and had a good look coming off the right wing boards, but again Gruber stood tall.
The chances kept coming for Canton in the first. Digirolamo had a shot blocked in front and the rebound fell to Tourgee at the post, but the freshman forward was denied by the freshman goalie’s pad. AJ Thomas had another chance between the circles with a quick spin and shot but Gruber, who was making his first varsity start, was again equal to it.
“Why not?” chuckled North coach Ben McManama when asked about having his goalie make his debut against the Bulldogs. “I was a little worried about doing that but you can tell he’s a tough kid mentally and you know what? You’re going to have to learn sometime and we thought it would be good experience for him.”
North started to get more looks in the offensive zone as the first period wore on. Charlie Connolly angled a shot from the right point that was tipped in front by Joe Quinn, but went just wide of the post. In the final seconds of the first, Nik Kojoian pushed towards goal from the left circle but was denied at the post by Canton goalie Liam Polles (15 saves).
Despite starting on the kill, Canton dominated zone time in the second, keeping North pinned back in its defensive zone. Even with all that pressure, it was North that had the edge in shots on goal (6-5) in the period. The Rocketeers defensemen continually got in the way of shots and kept Canton out of the middle.
“It can be a little deceiving sometimes,” said McManama. “There may be a lot of zone time, but are we giving up quality shots? I think we didn’t give up too many except for the goal they scored. They did a good job of keeping everything to the outside and our goalie did a great job and we also helped him out.”
Jake Gruber had a good chance for North when he forced a turnover near his own blue line and then forced a blocker save from Polles on the other end of the ice. Mark Ayvazyan almost had a breakaway for the Rocketeers, but pulled up short of the crease to avoid a defenseman and then fired just wide.
By that point, Canton had gotten its one good chance. After a spell of pressure in the zone that saw a couple of shots blocked in front, the puck kicked out to Chaput just inside the left circle. He barely settled the puck before whipping a shot into the top corner that gave the goalie no chance.
“Jeff had a great shot and a quick shot, quick release that kind of surprised the goalie,” said Shuman. “He worked hard. He had the best game I’ve seen him play in his two years for us and he deserved that.”
The pattern continued in the third period, with Canton using its speed to gain the zone and put pressure on the North defense, but with the visitors holding firm and creating the occasional scoring opportunity on the other end.
“Coach Spillane said it best on the bench, let’s get some breathing room and get that goal early in the period,” Shuman said of Canton’s approach to the third period. (With his assistant coaches unavailable this week, Shuman asked former Franklin coach Chris Spillane to help out on the bench.) “We had a couple good chances, just couldn’t bury it.”
It was a warning for the Bulldogs that the game wasn’t over. The best chance to double the lead came when Dylan Coyne’s shot from the slot was blocked and the rebound fell to Eddie Gillis, but his tip slid just wide of the post.
North came closest to tying the game with 2:30 remaining. Tyler Sarro stretched to tip a clearance in the neutral zone to avoid an icing and, after a battle behind the Canton net, the puck came out to Nick Longa on the edge of the crease. Polles kept his pads on the ice and was able to cover up.
Just a few seconds after North pulled its goalie, Canton wrapped up the win. Sam Carlino blocked a pass on one end, chased the puck down, and flicked into the empty net to make it 2-0 with 40.2 on the clock.
“We’re going to have to look at the film and see how we can generate more offense,” said McManama. “Sometimes they do such good job with our ‘D’ zone coverage that we get stuck down there. We’re going to have to work on ways to get ourselves better entries through the neutral zone.”