By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The top rivalry in Hockomock hockey was showcased on a new stage Friday night,, as Canton and Franklin met in their annual non-league matchup at Schneider Arena on the campus of defending national champion Providence College.
Bulldogs junior Shaun Kirby transferred into the rivalry from Catholic Memorial last season, but suffered a pair of one-goal losses to the Panthers. The third time was the charm for the forward, who scored two goals, hit the post, and had two other goals taken off the board by whistles to inspire Canton to a 4-2, come from behind win.
“I think Shaun Kirby played the best all-around game I’ve seen him play in his two years here,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “He was the best player on the ice and he was a difference maker.”
Kirby scored twice in the opening period, both times bringing Canton back from one-goal deficits. His first tally came on the power play just a minute after he had a goal ruled out when the official lost sight of a loose puck and blew the play dead. Rather than hang his head, he came right back down the ice and received a perfect pass from Matt Lazaro for a one-timer in the slot.
After another Franklin goal, Kirby and the Bulldogs responded quickly. Just 30 seconds after falling behind, an odd-man rush by the second line led to another Kirby one-timer with Franklin goalie Nick Jasinski (22 saves) stranded at his near post.
“They were all over us to start the game,” said Shuman, “and until we got a couple of power plays they were outshooting us 8-1, but we battled back.”
Kirby nearly gave Canton the lead in the second period but he had two point-blank chances blocked by Franklin’s senior netminder. With 4:03 left in the second, Kirby appeared to have his hat trick on a breakaway. The puck disappeared, the red light came on and the Canton fans started celebrating, only to have the officials rule that it landed in Jasinski’s jersey and stayed out.
The Bulldogs got off to a quick start to the third period and Lazaro pounced on a deflected shot by sophomore defenseman Brad Murphy that landed right on the senior’s stick at the far post. He buried his shot to give Canton its first lead at 3-2 with 13:51 left to play.
Shuman said of Lazaro, “Everyone on the other team knows who our best player is and it’s going to be a matter of him keeping his head on straight and being mentally tough when things aren’t going his way.”
Not even two minutes later the Bulldogs’ lead was doubled. The puck stayed loose in the crease in front of Jasinski and senior forward Jim Jenkins took a couple swings at it and the puck dribbled slowly inside the far post for a 4-2 lead.
The Panthers come into the season on the back of a historic run to the Super 8 (becoming the first Hockomock team to ever qualify for the prestigious tournament) but also trying to replace 21 seniors who graduated off that team.
In the opening minutes of the first period, Franklin looked like the experienced team and jumped into the lead when junior Adam Assad took an outlet pass from defenseman Thomas Sicchio and finished to make it 1-0. After Kirby tied it, Franklin took the lead with 1:28 left in the first when Matt Pleshaw’s shot from the point was redirected by sophomore Jeremy Miller.
Franklin coach Chris Spillane said, “We came out with a little fire in our belly and then in third period we just didn’t do it. Every time we scored, we let them right back in the game.”
In the third period, trailing by two goals, Franklin had an opportunity to get back into the game when Canton had Jenkins and Murphy sent to the box. The Panthers struggled to get any clear-cut chances, despite the two-man advantage, and at times in the third looked like a team that was still figuring things out.
“There was a lot of unsure plays, not sure what to do with the puck, making bad turnovers,” said Spillane. He added, “We didn’t really have too many quality shots and we had ample opportunities on power plays…and you need to have that killer instinct to put it away and we didn’t do that.”
There is plenty of season remaining for the Panthers and Shuman was confident that at the end of the year Franklin would be right back in its usual perch atop the league. Spillane noted, “It’s a tough way to start the season, but we’ve got some young kids who are happy to be playing hockey and we’ll make it right.”
Canton players rushed onto the ice at the final whistle celebrating with senior goalie Justin Slocum (24 saves). The Bulldogs have not beaten Franklin in a couple seasons and, as one assistant remarked, it was going to be a much happier ride back up I-95 after this win.
Shuman said simply, “It’s been a couple years, so it was a good W.”
Both teams will be right back on the ice on Saturday. Canton travels to Gallo Arena in Bourne to face Sandwich, while Franklin gets a test from fellow Div. 1 tournament contender Bridgewater-Raynham.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.