CANTON, Mass. – Every team talks about the importance of cashing in on power play opportunities, but teams don’t typically expect to have as many chances as Canton did on Saturday night. The Bulldogs were given a man advantage 11 times against Mansfield and scored three times, including twice in the first period to take control.
Special teams were the story of the night for Canton, which added a crucial shorthanded goal late in the third period that sealed the win, and the Bulldogs skated away with a 4-0 victory over the Hornets on Hockey Fights Cancer night at the Canton Ice House.
Mansfield started the game with a flurry of chances, using an early power play of its own to spark its offense. Matt Copponi, Jack Garland, and Jake Lund were some of the Hornets who created early scoring opportunities but were denied by Canton senior goalie Mike Staffiere (22 saves).
“We had good looks,” said Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini. “We didn’t give up, even the second period with all those penalties I thought the momentum was going our way. We had our chances but their goalie played well.”
With nine minutes left in the first, Brian Grant stepped up and had a chance driving to the net. Staffiere got a piece and the rebound trickled just wide of the post and seconds later Braedon Copparini had a shot that went narrowly wide as well.
“They’ve got a boatload of talent over there,” Canton coach Brian Shuman said. “They’ve got defensemen who are basically like forwards and we expected some flurries and it was good that we had a good goalie to back us up.”
Three minutes later, Canton took the lead. On the power play, Johnny Hagan weaved his way past several Mansfield defensemen and slipped a backhand shot under Mansfield goalie Sean McCafferty, who managed to keep it out but then the rebound was pounced on by Ryan Nolte.
Just three minutes later and the lead was doubled. After a penalty was called, the Bulldogs had a face-off to McCafferty’s left. Hagan was kicked out of the face-off and Nolte stepped in. He won the draw back to Hagan, who was cutting across the circle onto his forehand. The junior forward took the puck in stride and rifled a wrister inside the far post to make it 2-0.
Shuman said, “We had to mix it up a little bit. They knew we were going to run certain plays over and over and finally we just had to keep it simple and get some pucks to the net and get some guys out in front.”
McCafferty (35 saves) stopped a shorthanded breakaway chance by Tommy Ghostlaw before the end of the period and he kept that momentum going in the second, making 19 saves in that period alone. The Hornets were called for six penalties in the second and spent all but about three minutes on special teams in the period.
Hagan nearly got his second assist of the game when he set up Jack Connolly pinching in at the back post only to have McCafferty get across and get a shoulder to it. Hagan also hit the post and had another big chance saved when Connolly found him in space inside the circle.
Chris Lavoie had several chances driving towards the net from the right circle but couldn’t find the angle to beat the goalie. Tommy Vaughn had one of Canton’s best chances when he stole the puck from a Mansfield defenseman right in front of goal but sent his shot over the bar.
“You’re basically using six forwards and four ‘D’ and those guys get tired and credit to their goalie, he made some saves and they made some blocks,” Shuman explained. “It’s kind of ironic that when you’re on all those power plays it can wear you down a little bit, especially when you don’t score.”
Despite playing down a player for much of the period, Mansfield did have a couple of chances. Nick Levine had a shot from the point that was saved and the rebound nearly caromed back in off a Canton defenseman. The best chance of the period fell to Austin Ricker, who got a clean breakaway shorthanded only to be stoned by a great blocker save from Staffiere.
“Mike was probably tested the most he’s seen this year and he played the best he has this year,” said Shuman about his goalie. “He’s an exceptional goalie and he would’ve been a starter on any other team for the past two years if he wasn’t playing behind Quinn [Gibbs].”
Mansfield cleared off 1:16 of a penalty that extended into the third period and the Hornets were still in the game, down just two goals. Canton had the first good chance of the third when Ryan Colby rode a pair of challenges and still managed to slide the puck just wide of the post. Hagan and Nolte combined again on another power play chance but again McCafferty made the stop.
With six minutes to play, the teams traded great chances. Copponi flicked a pass into the slot for Coleman O’Brien but the senior missed the net with his shot and then seconds later Joe Robinson had a breakaway but the puck slid off the toe of his stick when he went to shoot.
““The second period, I think we had two minutes of 5-on-5 hockey,” said Balzarini. “They scored three power play goals and a shorthanded, but I thought when we played 5-on-5 we played well.”
Staffiere came through again to protect the lead when he made the save on a chance for Garland in the slot. That proved to be critical inside a minute when Hagan blocked a shot at the blue line, turned it into a breakaway and then calmly picked his spot to beat the goalie for a three-goal lead.
“That was huge,” said Shuman. “Last year we struggled to get out to the point and block shots and the past two games in particular, Joe Robinson last game and Johnny this game making huge blocks. You have to pay the price in this game.”
John Gormley had a chance for Mansfield that hit the bar and stayed out and with just a minute later, with three minutes left, Canton secured the victory on its 10th power play of the night. Connolly fired a shot from the point and Timmy Kelleher had the deft tip to find the back of the net.
Hockey Fights Cancer night at the Ice House was held in honor of Reo Todesca and Kristin Rocha, who were both connected to the Canton hockey program and both passed away a year ago. Proceeds from the night were donated to the Reo Todesca Memorial Foundation and the Kristin Rocha Memorial Scholarship.
“It was an intense hockey game but it was for a good cause,” said Shuman. “That’s really what the night is all about. We play a silly game and tonight the money raised is going to two good causes, so we’re happy about that.”