BRIGHTON, Mass. – Last winter, Canton was the No. 14 seed, an underdog and an afterthought for many of the people picking favorites to make a run at a state championship. This season, the Bulldogs have been considered Div. 2 title contenders for months and earned the No. 2 seed coming into the tournament. There was no sneaking up on opponents this year, instead Canton has had to deal with the weight of high expectations.
While the journey has been very different from last year to this one, the end result is the same. Canton will be heading to the TD Garden to play for the state title on the final day of the winter season.
The Bulldogs earned their spot in the final with a 1-0 victory over third-seeded Archbishop Williams on Monday night at the Warrior Ice Arena courtesy of 16 saves from senior goalie Colleen Kelleher and a goal from junior Maggie Malloy, her sixth of the postseason.
“Last year was insane,” Kelleher explained. “We had no idea we could even do that, it was a joke. We just kept going, game after game, but this year it was more like, we have to make it back and we have to get our second chance and we have to win. I think we were a little more motivated this time but it still feels just as sweet.
Canton coach Dennis Aldrich said, “Last year we snuck up on a lot of people. We were supposed to lose every game last year. To do what these kids have done with the target on their back all year because people knew where we were last year…this is a bigger accomplishment for this program. They stuck together.”
The Bulldogs got off to a strong start to the state semifinal, suffering no hangover from last week’s win over Notre Dame Academy (Hingham) that avenged last year’s title game defeat. Andrea McNeil set up Maria Femia for a golden scoring opportunity just five minutes in only to be denied the opener by Archies goalie Allison Delmonte.
Two minutes later, Lauren Fitzpatrick drove at the net from the left circle but a last-second poke check by the goalie kept her from getting off a shot. McNeil stole the puck on the forecheck but missed the net from the slot and freshman Lizzie Tassinari managed to get off a shot while falling down and forced a pad stop.
Kendra Farrelly nearly picked the top corner only to have Delmonte get her shoulder to the first try and also block Farrelly’s follow up. Canton finished with six shots in the first, despite controlling most of the play and keeping Archies on its heels.
The Bulldogs kept pressing at the start of the second with the forecheck continuing to cause problems for the Bishops, forcing turnovers and leading to shots on goal. The Canton forwards were also putting in shifts in the defensive zone and one backcheck by Femia allowed her to break out quickly and create an odd-man rush with Tassinari but again Delmonte made the save.
The breakthrough finally came with 8:42 left in the second. Malloy, who also scored the game-winners in each of Canton’s two previous playoff games this season, showed off her speed in the neutral zone after an outlet by Alexa Maffeo and got space in the right circle. As she angled towards goal, she fired an unstoppable shot just under the bar for the 1-0 lead.
“There is no one who works harder,” said Aldrich of Malloy. “She deserves everything she gets because she’s the hardest working player on our team. She’s a gamer and she brings it every night. She may not have the polished skill that some people do but what she has you can’t teach.”
Femia and Tassinari continued to cause fits on the second line with both having good scoring chances in the second and Fitzpatrick got free for a shot after Leah McClellan managed to keep a puck in at the blue line.
Before the game, Aldrich talked about trying to wear Archies down and in the second period he used his third line of Marissa Devane, Ellie Rae Roberts, and Katie Halloran a few times to try and add a little energy and give his other lines a short breather.
Aldrich said, “We don’t normally go strictly two lines but we looked to do that in the first period to maybe get a little quick strike on them. It didn’t work as planned but then we were able to spot the third line out there a couple times and it really got us energized. They only got maybe three, four shifts but they were important shifts for us.”
Canton gave Archies the chance to get back into the game with three penalties in the third period, but the Bulldogs were so aggressive on the kill that the Bishops struggled at times to get the puck out of their defensive zone.
“When you’re tired,” Aldrich explained, “if you’re out-worked by the penalty kill it works against you; you have to work harder. I think we wore them out just enough. We take pride in the third period too, whether we’re even strength or a man down, we try to keep it simple and we actually did a great job of that.”
McNeil and Malloy both had chances to seal the win but Delmonte continued to be stout in the Archies goal. Kelleher was largely untroubled on the other end of the ice with the biggest save of note being a second period stop on Mackenzie Heath after she skated in all alone. With 4:35 remaining in the game, Kelleher was called on again after Hanna Bell spun in the slot and fired a snap shot that the Canton goalie was able to kick aside.
It was a solid stop, especially since Kelleher had been mostly a spectator as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-1 advantage in shots in the third.
“It’s so nerve-wracking,” said Kelleher of not having to be ready after a long time between saves. “Even though in the games I face more shots I may let in more goals but I’m more focused in the game and my legs are warmed up. It’s definitely harder in these types of games.”
Archies finished with a flurry, desperately seeking the tying goal. Heath had the final scoring opportunity as she pinched in from the point on the power play, but her shot was saved by Kelleher.
At the final horn, the Canton players raced to their goalie to celebrate. This tournament run may be different than last year, but in the end that feeling of knowing that you are playing for a state title remains.
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” Kelleher gushed. “My heart just like burst. I don’t even know, it gave me butterflies. I’m so excited still.”
Canton (18-3-3) will face top seed Wellesley in the Div. 2 state championship game on Sunday at the TD Garden, time to be determined.
Unfortunately, King Philip found itself chasing the game, and despite a strong push to get even, the Warriors fell 3-2 to the Bishops at Zapustas Rink.
“I would agree,” said KP head coach Jack Unger about being the better team over the final two periods. “We’ve had a rough time getting goals over the course of the season. But they keep fighting and that’s all you can ask for.
“After the first period, we possessed the puck a lot more, we had better transition through the neutral zone and better control on the puck in the offensive zone to create chances. It came through puck possession. And they were playing with urgency since we were down.”
Archies scores just under four minutes into the game to take an early lead, but King Philip balanced the play out by the end of 15 minutes, both teams putting six shots on net in the frame.
The Bishops capitalized again on an early goal, this time just 21 seconds into the second period to take a 2-0 lead. But as the midway point of the second came, the Warriors found themselves with the majority of puck time and chances on goal.
With just under nine minutes to play in the middle period, King Philip registered its first good chance when Katie Crowther connected with Gorman just across the blue line, and Gorman slid a pass towards goal but the defense came away with a clearance before Meehan could get a clean look.
King Philip’s Kyleigh Remmes made a nice hustle play to partially block a clearance from the Bishops and was rewarded with possession in the attacking zone. She tossed her shot towards goal that created a scrum in front of Delmonte but the puck was swept away by the Bishops’ defense.
“The girls could feel the shift in the momentum,” Unger said. “They had much better puck possession and that let us do more things with it and transition into the neutral zone much better than the first half of the game.”
The Warriors continued the pressure with just over two minutes to go when freshman Avari Maxwell skated in but her shot went just high. KP kept the puck in the offensive zone and it eventually popped out to the blue line. Junior Nicole Connor used a nice move to fake around the first defenseman and then sniped her shot top shelf to make it 2-1 with 2:04 left in the second.
After giving up early goals in each the first and second periods, the Warriors came out with purpose in the third and applied the pressure to the home side. The pressure resulted in a power play for KP when Archies was whistled for hooking with 12:43 to go.
KP had the puck in the attacking zone for nearly a minute but couldn’t get anything through to the goal. After a clearance, the Warriors attempted to skate back up ice but Archies’ Marguerite Leonard intercepted a cross ice pass, skated in alone and deposited a shorthanded goal to make it 3-1 with 11:21 to play.
Despite falling behind two goals to the third-seeded Bishops, King Philip continued to battle.
Junior goalie Lilly Potts then came up with her two biggest saves of the game to keep the Warriors alive. First, Leonard jumped on a loose puck and skated in alone on goal but Potts stayed with her and pushed the bid aside.
Seconds later, Bishops junior Mackenzie Heath had a partial breakaway chance but once again Potts away up to the task and made the save.
Those saves allowed the Warriors to come down the other way and capitalize. Connor came flying into the zone along the right side, getting around her defenseman before firing a high shot. The chance forced a save from Delmonte but the rebound fell right in front and Meehan alertly batted the loose puck in to make it 3-2.
“We were getting more pucks to the net,” Unger said. “Once we got into the offensive, they were able to move it around a little bit more.”
KP continued to play on the front foot and had a couple of chances over the final two minutes, but couldn’t convert any before the final buzzer sounded.
King Philip girls hockey finishes the season 11-9-2.
By Danny Emerman, HockomockSports.com Contributor
BRAINTREE, Mass. – Archbishop Williams’ Patrick Sexton converted a layup through contact. Though he missed the ensuing free throw, his teammate Thomas Veasey corralled the offensive rebound and completed his own traditional three-point play.
The five-point play swing, emblematic of a back-and-forth game, cut the Canton Bulldogs’ once 12-point lead down to just four with 41 seconds remaining.
But Canton made enough plays down in the final minute and held on for a 62-57 win.
“They found a way to make the game ugly, and we found a way to win an ugly game,” said Canton head coach Ryan Gordy.
Canton started the game in control from the tip, breaking the Archies’ zone defense for easy looks. The hosts hung around by attacking the rim, getting to the basket, and feeding the post, where they had size advantages.
Canton played man to man defense in the first half, aggressively denying passes and switching on-ball screens. They fronted the post without weak side help, but Archies elected to go over the top to find some success in the post.
“We wanted to front because we knew they had a little bit of size,” Gordy said. “They did a good job lobbing it over the top. We have to do a better job pressuring the inbounds pass to the post.”
Inside, Archbishop Williams’ big men either converted layups or got fouled, which put Canton in the bonus early.
“We did a good job of that lead pass and our bigs did a good job of finishing,” Archbishop Williams head coach Jimmy Dolan said. “We had a good balance of working the ball in and out, getting to the line,” Dolan added.
The Bishops went on a remarkable 18-3 blitz to open the second quarter, swinging the momentum in favor of the hosts. Archies entered halftime with a slim 31-26 lead by winning the second quarter 23-9.
Archbishop put their stamp on the second quarter, but Canton returned the favor by outscoring the Bishops 23-6 in the third, taking a 12-point lead into the final frame.
The difference, simply, was Devin Foster (23 points). Archbishop had no answer for the junior guard down the stretch, as Foster poured in 15 points in the second half, including 11 in the third quarter.
“He can do it all,” Gordy said of Foster. “He can shoot it, he can handle it, he makes guys better because when he attracts the defense, he likes to pitch and kick. We just have to make sure other guys are knocking down shots when they get opportunities so we can allow him the space he needs to operate.”
Canton opened the second half on a 12-0 run to retake the lead, with Foster responsible for 10 of those points.
Gordy aimed to “neutralize” Archbishop’s big men in the second half by switching to a high 1-3-1 trapping zone and by giving senior center Matt Warburton more minutes. “[Warburton] didn’t play a lot in the first half, but he was a huge X-factor for us,” Gordy said.
Foster’s electrifying play combined with Canton’s defensive adjustments had them in pole position, but the Bishops never went away.
A Sebastian Joseph (11 points) and-one cut the Bulldog lead to single digits, then James Dolan’s (10 points) triple cut it to six early in the fourth quarter. The rare five-point possession brought the Bishops within four.
Patrick Sexton’s three-pointer from the top of the key after a pair of Canton free throws made it 60-57 with 15 seconds left, but it wasn’t enough.
Canton senior guard Jake Verille stepped up on the offense end. Verille dropped 13 points and dished out a handful of pretty assists by swerving into the teeth of Archbishop Williams’ zone defense and kicking out to shooters.
Canton boys basketball (2-1 Hockomock, 4-1 overall) enters division play on Friday, with Milford scheduled to come to town at 6:30.