FRANKLIN, Mass. – Canton was on its heels for large portions of Saturday night’s season opener at Pirelli Veterans Arena, struggling with the speed of the Franklin forwards and struggling to find the outlet passes that would send the Bulldogs racing forward into the offensive zone.
Still, the Bulldogs know how to find ways to win games. Senior forward Shane Marshall took advantage of a fortuitous bounce off a skate to score a power play goal with 11:27 to play and it turned out to be the difference in a 3-2 victory that extends Canton’s unbeaten run to 27 games and makes it four straight wins against the Panthers.
“It was probably not as tightly played as we’re used to, but that’s a really good team,” Canton coach Brian Shuman said. “They’re a very skilled, high-flying team this year. They were doing some stuff that we hadn’t seen them do in the past. I was very impressed with them, they played very well, and they took it to us.”
He added, “We got a lucky bounce on the power play goal to go up and then we just kind of hung on.”
The first period was relatively even, the teams putting nine shots on goal apiece. Owen Lehane had the first good chance for the Bulldogs, pushing forward from defense, splitting a pair of Franklin players, but having the puck roll off the blade at the last second. A face-off win set Shea Hurley up for a chance that was saved by Canton’s Joe Cammarata and the rebound was tipped over the glass.
With 6:34 left in the first, just after a power play had ended, Lavoie would put the Bulldogs in front. Johnny Hagan weaved his way behind the Franklin net and sent a pass right on the tape for Lavoie, who was left open in the slot, to one-time past Ivers.
Canton cleared off a two-man advantage but sophomore Dylan Marchand nearly tied the game before the end of the period when another face-off win set him up for a look from the slot. Declan Lovett dangled past the Canton defense on the left wing and forced another save from Cammarata, as the Panthers turned up the pressure.
It didn’t take long after the first intermission for Franklin to even the score. Sean Connelly was able to push past the first defenseman and then laid off a perfect pass across the crease to Shane McCaffrey, who smashed a one-timer into an open net less than a minute into the period.
The Panthers almost grabbed the lead when Marchand stole an outlet pass in the neutral zone and sped past the retreating Canton players. Cammarata stayed big and was able to stop the breakaway and then also recover to stop JT Dwyer’s follow-up effort.
Lavoie gave the Bulldogs back the lead on the power play. He corralled a loose puck in the slot, spun quickly onto his forehand, and fired a wrister just under the bar to make it 2-1.
Tom Tasker nearly set up a tying goal with a perfect angled pass from the right point to the far post, but Hurley was unable to knock it into the empty net. It was one of several good looks that the Panthers failed to capitalize on, as they outshot Canton 10-5 in the second. Franklin was also 0-for-5 with the man advantage in the first two periods.
“We had our chances, but I felt like we left a little on the table there and didn’t pull the trigger when we had to,” said first-year Franklin coach Anthony Sarno. “We were trying to be a little bit too polished and a little bit too cute and sometimes you just have to get the puck to the net.”
Just like in the second period, Franklin wasted no time to tie the game in the third. With 14:17 to play, Tasker stepped up to a loose puck on the near boards and let fly with a rocket of a slap shot blocker side, which gave Cammarata no chance.
Sarno said, “He’s got a shot like I’ve never seen before. He’s a big, strong kid and that goal he scored to tie the game was incredible. We need more of that. We need everybody to step up and contribute. We have to be committed.”
Also just like the second period, Canton wasted little time grabbing the lead back thanks to its dangerous power play (2-for-6 on Saturday). Ronan O’Mahony stepped up from the blue line to fire a shot on goal, which hit a skate in front and deflected directly to the stick of Marshall, who was stepping in from the left face-off dot. He didn’t need a second touch to knock it past the dive of Ivers.
“For the most part, for the first game we have a lot to learn,” said Sarno. “We need to take better care of the puck in our own zone. I thought we gave up a little too much space, especially on the initial rush. We need gap up a little better, take away their speed coming in, and force them to dump it in.”
Hagan nearly got his second assist when he set up Timmy Kelleher in front but Ivers was able to stay with the partially deflected shot and push it aside. The Bulldogs had an opportunity to put the game away after a major penalty was assessed to the Panthers, but Franklin managed to clear it off and also create a couple of chances to tie it in the final 1:15.
Lovett had the first chance with a shot from a face-off win, but it was stopped at the near post. Seconds later, Marchand had a slap shot that was sticked aside. Despite the Franklin pressure (the Panthers held a 29-21 advantage in shots for the game), and Canton looking shaky in its own zone, the Bulldogs managed to hang on.
“Our guys who have been around struggled tonight,” Shuman admitted. “Usually our strength is in the ‘D’ zone and breaking out and the guys who’ve been around really struggled. Hopefully it’s just first game jitters.”
They are now 26-0-1 in their last 27 games dating back to the start of last season, although Shuman is quick to turn the page on last year’s state championship.
“We rarely talk about last season, unless we’re asked about it and even then we kind of dismiss it,” he explained. “Based on scrimmages, based on this game, other teams got a heck of a lot better and we’re still figuring out how much better we got it. We had some magic last season and this season is going to be totally different.”