Three-Peat Bid Dashed as Canton Falls to Tewksbury

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Canton junior Jack Digirolamo tries to redirect a shot in the second period against Tewksbury. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BOSTON, Mass. – Throughout its postseason run, Canton has been able to put teams on their heels almost from the drop of the puck and has mostly played from in front. On Saturday evening at the TD Garden, it was Tewksbury that got off to the quick start and the Bulldogs were never able to fully recover.

In a rematch of the 2019 Div. 2 title game, the Redmen came out with extra energy, scored twice in the first period and then held on in the third to secure a 3-1 win. Tewksbury clinched its first title since 2011, ended Canton’s win streak at 22 games, its postseason win streak at 13 games, and its bid at a third straight state championship.

“It was a heck of a hockey game,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “I think two of the better hockey teams in the state made it this far and Tewksbury came as advertised, outstanding team, especially on the back end, made it really hard to get any offense going in this game and then when you did get a couple opportunities against them their goalie made some great saves.”

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He added, “Incredibly proud of our guys battling. It could’ve unraveled there when we went down 2-0 but we fought.”

It didn’t take the top seed long to show its intent to put pressure on the Canton defense. Jason Cooke forced a turnover in the attacking zone and fired a shot that freshman goalie Colin Davis turned aside with his blocker.

A couple minutes later, the Redmen took the lead. Caden Connors split a pair of Canton defensemen to get in on goal. He dragged Davis away from the net with a nice deke and the loose puck was knocked into the empty net by Matthew Cooke.

Things seemed to be just a little bit off for the Bulldogs. Passes didn’t seem quite as crisp or as accurate and pucks just seemed to be rolling off the blade at crucial times. Still, Canton kept battling and trying to create chances. Eddie Gillis set up a couple of shots, one from the blue line for Ryan Doucette and another on the forehand for AJ Thoams but Benjamin O’Keefe saved them both.

Davis came up with a big save with four minutes left in the first, as he stayed strong to deny a point-blank tip from Jason Cooke. Canton picked up a penalty on the back check and Tewksbury took advantage of the extra skater to double the lead. Connors again showed off his stick skills, weaving his way through three players before dragging it to the backhand while falling and depositing it in the open net.

“They did exactly what you want to do in a game like that, which is get the puck in the other team’s zone and keep it there for a while,” Shuman said about Tewksbury’s fast start. “Our goalie made some big saves. They set the tone for the game and, when that happens, it takes a little while to claw back in it, but I thought we did.”

Canton had a couple of chances at the end of the first. Eamon Kelly took a hit and forced a blocker save out of O’Keefe from the slot and Brennen Pecararo tried to match Connors with a dangle through the legs of the defensemen but O’Keefe closed down the five-hole.

Although shots were nearly even in the first (10-9), Tewksbury seemed to be creating more clear-cut chances. That continued at the start of the second. Another turnover gifted Cooke with a chance from close range that Davis saved. Two minutes in, Justin Rooney had a shot deflected and Doucette had to clear the rebound from the crease.

Brendan Tourgee tried to get things going with a steal in the neutral zone and a shorthanded slap shot that was partially blocked and kicked away by O’Keefe. With seven minutes left in the period, Canton had a great chance to get back into the game. Patrick Drurry’s shot from the left wing boards was kicked right to the stick of Brian Middleton in the slot, but the sophomore’s wrister was snagged by O’Keefe’s quick glove.

There were signs that the Bulldogs had turned the tide a little and they got a huge opportunity with their first power play. Sean Connolly twice had shots from the point saved, despite Jack Digirolamo providing a net-front presence, and Kelly forced a save with a wraparound try. Pecararo then hit Thomas right on the edge of the crease but again the Tewksbury goalie was there.

Canton made the breakthrough midway through the third period. Gillis collected the puck in the slot and slid a perfect pass into the path of an onrushing Thomas, who slammed in a one-timer to cut the lead to 2-1 with 7:13 to play.

“AJ’s had a great year,” Shuman said. “I think he surprised some people early on but he didn’t surprise anyone in our locker room. He’s got such a quick shot and he’s truly talented around the net.”

The spark of life from Canton was short-lived. In fact, it was Tewksbury that seemed to get a boost. Tyler Barnes spun and fired off a quick shot that Davis did well to turn aside, Ryan Flynn jumped on a mistake to race in alone but smacked the bar, and then Barnes got behind the defense on another breakaway only for Davis to shut down the five-hole and keep the Bulldogs in it.

With Canton pressing forward in the final minute and the net empty, Connors was able to break free down the left wing and he sealed the win for the Redmen.

When asked what it meant to be back playing at the Garden, especially after the Bulldogs were denied that opportunity in 2020, Shuman said, “Give me this any day of the week, to be here and give the kids the chance to play in this wonderful place, this amazing venue, and it’s just great to be back playing postseason sports. There’s nothing like it.”

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Canton (22-3-1) has lost only four games in the past four seasons, including two unbeaten campaigns. In that span, the Bulldogs have won four league titles, extended their win streak in the Hockomock League to 43 games, won two state titles, made three state title game appearances, and compiled a remarkable record of 79-4-6.

“It’s a testament to the kids that we have,” Shuman said about the sustained success of the program. “You look up in the stands there and you see all these Canton youth hockey players and these younger players from Canton that dream about being out there and they work hard so that they can make it out there and they work hard so they can make our program great when they do make it here.

“I think it’s a community effort and a community love for the sport and I think it just feeds itself.”

Thomas Nets Twice, Canton Continues Title Defense

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Brennen Pecararo celebrates after putting Canton up two goals against Plymouth North in the D2 Sweet Sixteen. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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CANTON, Mass. – It took a few minutes for Canton to find its footing in Wednesday night’s Div. 2 Sweet Sixteen matchup with No. 14 seed Plymouth North at the Canton Ice House. The Bulldogs found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-on-3 power play and their play didn’t have its typical sharpness.

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But, the Bulldogs still found the breakthrough midway through the first and then took full control of the game with a two-goal burst in the final minute of the period, including a goal from AJ Thomas with no time on the clock. That surge turned out to be decisive, as the two-time defending state champs would hold off the Eagles for a 4-1 victory.

Canton extended its win streak this season to 20 games and its playoff win streak to 11 games, going back to the D2 South semifinal in 2018.

“It started off well and then some penalties and stuff that kind of took us out of our rhythm, but they’re a good team,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “They worked hard from start to finish and they played with more of a sense of urgency when they were down but we had our chances. We had plenty of chances and their goalie played very well.”

The game got off to a sluggish start in part because, before either team had gotten into a flow, there were three penalties called in the opening four minutes. Canton was spent almost 90 seconds down two players, but managed to kill off the Plymouth North power play and keep the game scoreless. It was a big early boost.

“Credit to our guys killing off that 5-on-3, that was huge,” said Shuman. “You still see some nervous energy out there with some of our younger guys and we just have to battle through it and not find ourselves in the penalty box early in the game. Credit to our PK team, they did a great job killing those early ones off.”

Patrick Drury had one of the few good chances early in the game for Canton when his shot from the right wing circle forced a pad save out of Kaden Bono. About two minutes later, Canton had the lead. Eddie Gillis blocked a clearance in the slot, spun quickly and snapped off a shot that went inches wide. The Bulldogs kept battling to keep the puck in deep and Gillis wound up in the right spot to jam in a shot at the near post.

Things started to click into gear as time went on in the first. James Young made a nice pass up the far boards into the path of Andrew Valkanas, who raced down the left wing and forced another good pad save from Bono.

Canton’s best passing move of the night led to the second goal. Brendan Tourgee drove forward through the neutral zone and flipped a pass out to the left to Eamon Kelly, who in turn dropped a pass into the path of defenseman Brennen Pecararo. The senior, who played juniors for his first three seasons and started the season as a forward, smashed his one-timer past Bono.

“As soon as we moved him back to D, the third or fourth game, things have really settled down back there,” Shuman said of Pecararo. “He’s just a really strong defender but he sees the ice really well, can move the puck, and he’s been a real offensive and defensive strength for us this year.”

The Bulldogs beat the buzzer to add to the lead. Brian Middleton took a perfect outlet pass right down the middle but his breakaway opportunity was denied by Bono. Thomas was hustling to follow up the play and he was able to collect the rebound and snipe the top far corner just before the horn sounded.

Leading 3-0, Canton could’ve relaxed but the Bulldogs came out aggressive to start the second. Jay Kelleher held a puck in at the blue line and set up Thomas going to the net only for Bono to make a good stop.

Three minutes into the second, Thomas had another chance saved. The loose puck popped out to Pecararo pinching in but his shot just missed the open net. Thomas continued to fight for the puck on the side of the net and roofed a shot for his second and the team’s fourth.

Valkanas teed up Tourgee for a quick release shot that forced a pad stop from Bono and Pecararo later kept a puck in the zone to set up Thomas for a chance at a hat trick but the Eagles’ goalie made another good save.

The visitors would be outshot 32-19 for the game but weren’t without chances of their own. Evan Hallissey and Kevin Norwood both gave the Canton defense some issues with their speed but freshman Colin Davis continued to be a rock in goal, denying the Eagles from close range on several chances over the final two periods.

Plymouth North did get some momentum before the end of the second. Josh Bates had a steal at the blue line and raced forward for a shorthanded breakaway and he ripped it high to the glove side to make it 4-1.

Rather than let the Eagles build on that momentum in the third, Davis and the Canton defense were able to largely keep things tight in the defensive zone and the attackers were able to keep pressure down the other end of the ice.

There weren’t a lot of great chances for Canton, Valkanas had one shot saved and nearly connected with Tourgee right in front and Kelly forced a nice blocker save after a steal, but the Bulldogs remained in control throughout.

Shuman explained, “Those games are often tough, when you get up early on a team, desperation kicks in on their side, they really elevate their game, and that’s what happened to Plymouth North. They really elevated their game in the second and third period, in particular, and I thought our guys did a good job of still controlling the play and getting some chances.”

Canton (20-2-1) will face No. 6 seed Walpole in the D2 quarterfinal at a date, time, and location to be determined.

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Canton Dominates Plymouth South in Return to Playoffs

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Andrew Valkanas drives towards the net during Canton’s dominating 3-0 win over Plymouth South in the D2 first round. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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CANTON, Mass. – While tournament success is nothing new for Canton, including back-to-back state titles in 2019 and 2020, a season lost to the pandemic means that many of the Bulldogs on the ice for Wednesday night’s Div. 2 first round visit of Plymouth South to the Metropolis Rink were getting their first taste of the playoffs.

There may have been a lot of new names and faces, but the result looked very familiar.

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Canton dominated from start to finish, scoring twice in the first period and outshooting Plymouth South 47-8 to earn a 3-0 victory and advance to the round of 16. In the process, the Bulldogs earned their 19th straight win this season and avenged a loss to the Panthers from the 2018 South semifinal, which was the last time anyone beat Canton in the playoffs (10 straight wins and counting).

“It was the first real postseason game for a lot of those guys in there due to forces beyond their control,” Canton coach Brian Shuman explained. “Even though you may have played playoffs in your youth hockey days, there’s nothing like playing a high school playoff game and I thought they played very well.”

The Bulldogs may have had some nervous energy on the bench, but on the ice they jumped right into top gear. Canton outshot the Panthers 17-3 in the first period. AJ Thomas had a great scoring chance inside the opening minute when he stole the puck in the left wing circle and charged towards goal only to be denied by Plymouth South goalie Tristian Holmes.

Canton opened the scoring after nearly three minutes. Patrick Drury had the first effort from the side of the net, but Holmes made a good stop. With the puck sitting on the edge of the crease, Brian Middleton crashed the net and buried the rebound from close-range for his first career playoff goal.

Brendan Tourgee created the second goal six minutes later. He collected the puck in his own zone and danced through almost the entire Plymouth South team to get a clean look on goal. He didn’t get all of the shot and Holmes made the save but the rebound was loose and Thomas was first to react. Thomas didn’t get a lot on his shot but it was enough to push it past the leg of the goalie to double the lead.

“I think in a first round playoff game, in particular, it’s good to have a good opening five, 10 minutes,” Shuman said about Canton’s push from the opening face-off. “Even if you don’t get a goal, it’s good to put the pressure on.

Chances kept coming for the Bulldogs. Sean Connolly made a rush up ice and teed up Thomas for a chance, but Holmes covered up the five hole. Tourgee again showed off his strength on the puck to get loose in the slot and he flipped a pass to Andrew Valkanas but again the visiting goalie made the stop.

The second period seemed to be played at a slower pace, but with Canton still firmly in control. Drury did well to keep a puck in along the boards to create a chance in front that Holmes stopped. Valkanas had another good look with a shot from the right wing circle only to have Holmes flash the blocker.

With 5:38 left in the second, Eamon Kelly, one of the few Bulldogs with any significant postseason playing time prior to this season, put the game away. He dragged the puck past a Plymouth South defenseman in the right wing circle and then roofed his backhand shot, giving the goalie no chance.

Colin Davis (eight saves) was largely a spectator in the Canton goal, but he kept his concentration to come up with a big stop to deny Kenneth Thurston when the Panthers forward skated onto a loose puck on the edge of the crease. He picked up the first playoff shutout of his career.

One of the traits that made Canton so tough to handle in its last two playoff runs was that the Bulldogs maintained their pressure for the full three periods. The current crop of Bulldogs showed a similar attitude in the third.

“One of the things we kept saying was try to get the next one, play it like it’s 0-0,” said Shuman. “We got the third goal and there was still a lot of nervous energy on the bench and it’s natural in a first round game to never feel comfortable and a way to try and be more comfortable is to go out and just keep playing, keep pushing.

Kelly created a great chance a few minutes in when he slipped a pass into the path of Valkanas, who in turn moved the puck to Tourgee for a shot on goal. Kelly also set up Connolly for a wrister through a crowd that forced Holmes into a good pad stop. Valkanas continued to be a pest in the attacking zone and had another chance right in front stuffed with six minutes to go.

Shuman said, “It was 3-0 but I think we had plenty of opportunities, plenty of chances, and their goalie played great. They’re a good team, they had a great end to the season (finishing 7-3 after a 1-11 start). It was just a good hockey game.

Canton (19-2-1) keeps its title defense alive and advances to the Round of 16 to face the winner of No. 14 Plymouth North and No. 19 Concord-Carlisle at a date, time, and location to be determined.

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Tourgee, Blake Net Canton Comeback Win Against KP

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Sophomore Brendan Tourgee (13) celebrates the game-tying goal with less than three minutes remaining in the third period, helping Canton to a come from behind win over King Philip. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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CANTON, Mass. – Despite Canton dominating play in the third period and holding King Philip to just two shots in the final 15 minutes, the Warriors went into the final three minutes holding onto a one-goal lead. It would be a rare win for KP in the series, a rare win for any Hockomock League team against the Bulldogs, and a chance to take a big early step towards a second straight league title.

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But, there is a reason that Canton went into Wednesday night’s game at the Metropolis Rink having won 36 straight league games. The Bulldogs scored a pair of goals in 1:39, completed a comeback after being down two goals twice in the game, and pulled out a dramatic 4-3 victory.

“It’s huge for our psyche,” Canton coach Brian Shuman said. “It’s good for our guys to see that they can come from two goals down. Hopefully they’re not in that position too often, but it’s still good to build that mental toughness.”

After the game, KP coach Paul Carlow rued the missed opportunity to grab a lead in the Kelley-Rex division, even if it is just three games into the league campaign.

“They pinned us in in the third,” he explained. “They outshot us and outplayed us in the third period. Instead of continuing to take it to them, it felt like we were more trying to hang on. That never works.”

It was all KP at the start of the game. The Warriors came out flying and needed only 27 seconds to pick up the opening goal. Shaun Fitzpatrick did good work down the right wing, driving at the net and drawing a couple of Canton defensemen. He flipped the puck out in front to Sean Crowther, who sent the puck through a crowd of legs across the crease where James Boldy was standing all alone to tap into the empty net.

Rather than being a wake up call for the home team, the goal seemed to spur the Warriors on for more. Fiztpatrick collected the puck against the right wing boards and turned towards goal. He had a free path right at Canton goalie Aiden French (18 saves) and stuffed the puck under the pads to make it 2-0 less than six minutes in.

Shuman said, “KP does a great job of getting pucks and bodies to the net and you saw that on the first goal. That’s their bread and butter and we struggled with that mightily tonight. We just weren’t tough enough out in front, we were puck watching, and losing guys. They play a tough brand of hockey.”

KP got a chance on the power play midway through the first and Max Robison forced French into a tough save on a shot from the point. Canton cleared the rebound. It was one of a couple chances that the Warriors had to try and extend the lead, but the Bulldogs held on and got the kill.

Only 13 seconds after getting back to even strength, Canton was on the board. AJ Thomas’ pressure on the forecheck caused a turnover in the attacking zone. His first shot from point-blank range was stopped by KP goalie Kyle Abbott (28 saves) but Thomas stuck with it and knocked in the rebound, cutting the lead in half.

The goal seemed to give Canton momentum, as the Bulldogs went into the locker room on the front foot, but it didn’t carry over to the second period. Only nine seconds elapsed before KP added a third. Boldy snapped off a wrsiter just as he was entering the zone on the left wing and French appeared to be unsighted as the puck flew under the bar on the stick side.

“We had some really good chances and then didn’t convert,” said Carlow. “Canton had the momentum off the kill and then I think they scored the very next shift and now it’s a one-goal game. We got a goal to start the second and I think we just kind of ran out of gas.”

Canton needed a spark. Sophomore Brendan Tourgee nearly had a quick response when he sailed into the zone, split a pair of defensemen and got off a backhand shot from a tight angle that Abbott kept out. Sam Carlino had a partial break for the Bulldogs but Robison hustled back to get a piece of the shot from the right face-off dot.

The Bulldogs were able to cut into the lead midway through the second. After a couple of shots from the point by Sean Connolly that Abbott pushed aside, they swung it across the blue line to Ryan Doucette. His shot was heading wide of the post but sophomore Brian Middleton was able to get a telling touch on it to sneak it past Abbott low at the near post.

“To get one there was big and that line of Middleton, (Patrick) Drury, and Blake continue to get it done and I think our other guys can learn a little bit from them because they’re having success and getting big goals just by getting to the tough, dirty areas,” said Shuman.

KP tried to hold on in the third, blocking shots and trying to keep the Bulldogs away from the crease. Eddie Gillis nearly set up Thomas for a tying goal, but Abbott stayed with the tip in front and kept it out. Tourgee then showed off his strength on the puck, holding off two defensemen to allow the Bulldogs to get back onside and then turning into the zone, forcing Abbott into a good save with his shoulder.

Connolly had another shot from the point that forced Abbott into a save. Tommy Phaneuf corralled the rebound in front but was pressured off the puck and couldn’t get a shot on target.

While the chances were piling up, the clock was winding down. Finally, with 2:42 to play. Tourgee found the back of the net. He dragged the puck through a stick check on the left wing boards and then angled towards goal. His backhand shot through the crease somehow snuck through a thicket of legs and found the far corner.

“He’s so gifted on the puck,” Shuman said of Tourgee. “He’s strong on the puck, he’s fast, he’s just got a nose for the net. I think he’s got to trust getting pucks to the net instead of always trying to pick those corners because you can see how offensively gifted he is.”

The pressure continued, as Canton outshot KP 13-3 in the final period. With 1:03 to go, the Bulldogs got the winner. Brennen Pecararo dropped a pass back to sophomore Colin Blake and he pounced on the chance in the slot, slamming the puck into the back of the net.

KP had one last look with the goalie pulled and less than 10 seconds on the clock, but Brad Guden’s shot from the point hit a body to the side of the post and ricocheted into the corner.

“We just got off to a tough start this year with injuries and illness,” Carlow said. “I think we had eight out sick the first week of the season, so we got off to a tough start and we’re just trying to get rolling.”

Canton (4-2-1) will be back home on Saturday afternoon to face Mansfield, which was the last team to hand the Bulldogs a league loss back in February 2017. King Philip (2-4-1) returns to Canton on Saturday night, this time at the IcePlex, to take on Archbishop Williams.

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