Spillane Stepping Down After Two Decades at Franklin

Chris Spillane
Franklin hockey coach Chris Spillane has announced that he is stepping down after 21 years of coaching at his alma mater. He won 14 league titles, a state championship, and reached the Super 8 during his tenure. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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Midway through the 1998-99 hockey season, Franklin had an unexpected opening for a varsity coach and the program turned to a former star player, and state champion, to fill the void. Chris Spillane, who had one-plus year of JV coaching experience, was promoted to finish out the winter. The Panthers won 10 of their final 14 games that season and advanced to face Duxbury in the Div. 2 South championship game. Twenty years later, Spillane’s coaching career has come to a close following another trip to the South final and, just like his first year, another meeting with the Dragons.

Spillane officially submitted his resignation on Monday, after telling his players that he was stepping down at the team’s end-of-season banquet on Sunday night. During his two-decade tenure as head coach, the Panthers went to the playoffs every season, reached five state championship games (including three Div. 2 finals in a row), won the Div. 1 state title in 2016, and became the first Hockomock League team to be selected for the Super 8. He finished with more than 300 career victories, second on the program’s all-time win list behind only his high school coach Bob Luccini.

“I’ve missed so much of my kids’ college hockey,” said Spillane when asked why he decided to retire. His daughter Kaitlyn just wrapped up a successful career at St. Anselm and his son Ryan has one more year left for the Hawks. His son C.J. was a senior on this year’s Franklin team. “My wife and I were talking and I was like, it’s time to follow him. I’ll miss this, but I can’t get that back.”

The idea of retirement was first addressed in the summer and Spillane told his coaching staff about his decision. He explained that the assistant coaches “basically coached the team this year” to prepare them for the possibility of taking over for the 2019-20 season.

After two decades without missing the playoffs, Spillane nearly saw his final season end early. The Panthers made the tournament with a record of 8-9-4 and were the lowest seed in D1 South. Franklin only qualified as the Kelley-Rex division champion (its eighth straight division title and 14th Hock title under Spillane), but the Panthers got a lot of help on a wild night to earn the crown.

Franklin thought the title and its postseason hopes were gone when it lost to North Attleboro, but then Mansfield and Oliver Ames were both beaten the same night, handing Franklin the title. Spillane said, “We showed up for practice the next day and I was like, you’re not going to believe this boys but we just won the league.”

When asked about his team taking advantage of that break and then making an improbable run to the South final, Spillane replied, “It was always in our kids, just this year took a little bit longer to pull it out of them and get them to see what they’re capable of.”

Talking to coaches that have faced Franklin during Spillane’s tenure and there are several common phrases that pop up – hardworking, consistent, disciplined. It was established from the start what was going to be expected of the Panthers every season and almost always the team met those lofty goals.

“Chris is the best coach I have seen in all my years of coaching… without question,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “His players are expected to outwork their opponents every shift and to play tough, fast and physical every time they touch the ice. You can tell that his players have the highest respect for him and would go through a wall for him.’

Long-time Stoughton coach Dan Mark added, “Chris has been a class act and I know I will miss him. The last 10 years my teams have struggled and he has never run up the score and has always been gracious and complimentary to me and my teams.”

Spillane credits a lot of his coaching philosophy from what he learned playing for Luccini and his coaches at UMass Boston, Gary Doak and Bill Stewart. He took bits and pieces from each of those coaches and molded it into his own style, but one that has been flexible and adaptable to meet the challenges and demands of coaching for 20-plus seasons. As he noted, the “X’s and O’s” haven’t changed much down the years but he has changed way he interacts with players, even if he still makes them do plenty of skating and hard work to get on the ice.

“Twenty years ago you could be a screamer and a yeller and it worked,” he explained. “Now it’s evolved into being a friend, a coach, and a mentor, and obviously with video being introduced they need visual learning not just white boards. It’s different generations and coaches who can change with it sort of stick it out and those that don’t change with it get weeded out.”

Spillane continued, “You’re just trying to make it the best experience they can have and if they win that’s just icing on the cake. You want them walking away saying I love hockey.”

One of the biggest challenges that Franklin faced during Spillane’s tenure was making the jump from D2 to D1, but the Panthers met it head on and needed little time to get acclimated. In just its second season in D1, Franklin was chosen to play in the Super 8. A team loaded with 22 seniors upset Xaverian in overtime in the play-in game and gave eventual champion Malden Catholic a battle over two legs. It was his son Ryan that scored the game-winning goal to lift the Panthers, which obviously meant a lot to his father, but it was the fact that he had coached that large and close-knit senior class since their days in Mites that made the accomplishment extra special for Spillane.

To remain in the Super 8 mix, Spillane has pushed to add tougher teams to Franklin’s schedule. Malden Catholic was the first to jump on (and the Panthers earned their first win against the Lancers this winter), but it was hard to find other D1 teams willing to schedule the Panthers. In 2016, Franklin added a state title and solidified itself as a public school program to be reckoned with and a positive addition for any Super 8 contender’s schedule. Now the likes of St. Mary’s, Marshfield, Hingham, St. John’s Shrewsbury, Barnstable, and Pope Francis are all regularly on the season slate.

“Now we’re turning games away and finding the right match for us that we could compete in but would still challenge us,” Spillane said. “It’s just about challenging kids, playing the best teams you can play and win or lose it’s going to make you better.”

While the Panthers have added D1 teams from around the state to bolster its strength of schedule, Spillane still looks forward to games with historic rivals. He joked about the “green teams” that Franklin gets fired up for (Canton, Mansfield, and King Philip) and raved about the depth in the league this season and the challenges that teams presented.

Canton has been the most consistent rival to Franklin’s supremacy in the league, with the teams trading seasons at the top. Shuman said, “I tell our kids all the time that we are incredibly lucky to have a true rival like Franklin. Rivals push you to be better and bring the best out of you. And Chris’ Franklin teams have clearly done that over the years.”

He added, “Franklin has always been a great hockey program, but Chris has made the program one of the best in the state.”

Spillane grew up in Franklin and dreamed of playing for the Panthers. He got his chance and was part of some of the program’s best teams. He won a state title in 1983 and scored 79 points the following season as a senior. He came back to Franklin after college to raise his family and got the chance to coach at his alma mater. Now, after 20 years of success on the bench, he gets to go back to being a fan, at least for a little while.

“I may still get out on the ice and help out, maybe do a captain’s practice, but at the end of the day it needs to move on,” he said, adding that he hopes that his assistant coaches will be considered to replace him. Even though he is moving on from the Franklin job to watch Ryan’s final year in college, he fully expects that this won’t be the end of his hockey career.

“For one year I am sitting back and being a parent and then the following year I’ll probably be coaching somewhere,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”

Nolte, Hagan Make Most Of Top Line Reunion

Ryan Nolte, Johnny Hagan
Canton senior Ryan Nolte (left) and junior Johnny Hagan celebrate with the D2 State Championship. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
ByRyanLanigan_2016FollowRyanLanigan_2016
 
 
BOSTON, Mass. – For the first 13 games of the season, Canton senior Ryan Nolte and junior Johnny Hagan took turns punishing teams as members of different lines.

For the last 13 games, the duo reunited on the Bulldogs’ top line, ramping up Canton’s already potent offense.

And in the biggest game of the season, the Division 2 State Championship against North sectional champion Tewksbury, Nolte and Hagan — along with linemate Timmy Kelleher — delivered when it mattered most.

“They are so dynamic together, they play so well together,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman. “They know where each other are at all times. They have this unique relationship on the ice that I’ve never seen before.”

Nolte and Hagan played on the same line for nearly the entire 2017-2018 season, helping the Bulldogs win another Davenport division title and reach the D2 South Semifinal. This season, Shuman decided to split the dynamic duo to begin the year, putting them on separate lines.

Click here for a photo gallery from the D2 State Final.

After tying for a team-high 36 points a year prior, splitting Nolte and Hagan gave Shuman an elite player on each of his first two lines, and also allowed Hagan to play his natural position of center.

“The best part about them, when I talked to them about splitting them they might have been unhappy but they didn’t show it,” Shuman said. “They just went out and had an outstanding first half of the season. That just shows the kind of leaders that they are. I know a lot of high school kids that would pout and sulk and let it affect their game, but not those two. They are just two special players, as good as they are individually, they are two great team players.

While Nolte and Hagan admitted they weren’t thrilled to part ways, neither let it show in their performance and helped the Bulldogs raced out to a perfect 13-0, outscoring opponents 64-13 in that span. Plus, it wasn’t an entire split as the pair played together on the power play and penalty kill.

“Coach told us a few weeks before the season, so it definitely hurt the next few days knowing we weren’t going to be playing on the same line,” Nolte said. “But we had to stay focused no matter who we were playing with. We knew we’d be together for the power play and PK, so it wasn’t a full split. But we knew that we had to work just as hard with our new linemates and we adapted well.”

So after three straight close games — a win over Newburyport, a third-period rally to stun Franklin, and a close win over North that included a late game-winner — along with the emergence of junior center Tommy Ghostlaw, Shuman elected to reunite Hagan and Nolte with Kelleher on the first line.

The result was four straight comfortable wins, outscoring opponents 24-1 in that stretch. And in one of the most challenging games of the year, Nolte and Hagan each scored in a 4-3 decision over D3 powerhouse Hanover.

“We already had the hot start so we knew playing together we could really pounce on teams even more,” Nolte said. “It was just a great feeling to be back on the same line and playing together.”

A week later, Hagan provided the heroics by scoring a goal regulation to salvage a tie with Boston late and keep the Bulldogs unbeaten. The junior then scored in overtime to help Canton advance to the final of the Quinn Memorial tournament.

“It’s always good to kind of shake things up,” Shuman said. “Since I’ve been coaching here, I don’t think we’ve ever gone from start to finish with the same line combinations, and it’s kind of by design. You play some teams twice, like Franklin, or could see another team twice like OA. It’s good to have different looks. It was always in the plans to do this at some point.”

Ghostlaw’s strong play allowed Shuman to keep Nolte and Hagan together on the top line. Ghostlaw (13 points) clicked with linemates Chris Lavoie (27 points) and Shane Marshall (15 points), giving the Bulldogs a strong second unit.

“Tommy is kind of the other part of the equation,” Shuman said. “He had such an outstanding season that allowed us to keep those two on the first line together. Chris Lavoie was fantastic, and Shane Marshall, someone who doesn’t enough credit a lot of the time, he was outstanding too.”

When the playoffs rolled around, Canton’s top line took its game to another level. In an opening-round rout of Medway, Nolte scored twice while Hagan and Kelleher each scored once in a 6-0 victory.

Again Oliver Ames, Nolte scored the game-winning goal midway through the second period by tipping in a shot from Jack Connolly. Kelleher buried an empty net goal to seal a win over the Tigers, arguably the toughest opponent the Bulldogs played this postseason.

In the semifinals, Nolte recorded a hat trick, two of which were assisted by Hagan. And Hagan also scored once, set up by Nolte, as the Bulldogs ran away with a 6-1 decision over Norwood.

The offensive onslaught continued in the South Final as the Bulldogs’ top line was responsible for half of Canton’s eight goals. Kelleher scored twice while Hagan and Nolte both found the back of the net once while registering two assists apiece.

“He definitely makes it easier for everyone on the ice,” Hagan said of Nolte. “We’ve played together since we were very young. We’ve always clicked, we know where each other are going to be. We knew what we had in front of us in terms of winning the state championship. We wanted it really bad, so we just came to work every day. We worked out butts off in practice and in games to get here, and here we are.”

Under the lights at the TD Garden, Canton’s first line shined the brightest. That line was on the ice for all six of the Bulldogs’ goals, scoring five of them.

Kelleher opened the scoring, tucking in the rebound off a shot from Owen Lehane with Nolte getting an assist with 9:04 left in the opening period. Minutes later, Connolly blasted a low shot from the right point to make it 2-0 with 7:27 to go in the first.

It took just 16 seconds for Canton to add to its lead as Nolte muscled his way into the slot and buried a wrist shot to make it 3-0.

“Without question, they are the best team we’ve played for sure.” said Tewksbury coach Derek Doherty. “You don’t get this far without three lines. Those guys play three lines but that first line of theirs, that’s definitely the best line we’ve played.”

The cohesion between Nolte and Hagan was on full display for the next two goals. The first, Hagan interrupted a pass near the blue while Tewksbury was on the power play. He went into the offensive zone and had his shot saved, but Nolte won the battle behind the net and found Hagan in front for a one-timer and a 4-0 lead.

Click here for a photo gallery from the D2 State Final.

Of Canton’s 29 playoff goals, the top line of Nolte-Hagan-Kelleher scored 19 of them.

“They carried us today, we asked them to play a lot of minutes,” Shuman said. “When you have penalties and power plays, that throws a wrench in the plans. We joked with Johnny, ‘Where’s your hat trick’ and there it was today. That line of Ryan, Johnny, and Timmy, what can you say about them? They played great.”

The Redmen cut it to 4-2 with two straight tallies over the second and third periods, but Nolte and Hagan responded with a power-play goal. Nolte won a battle along the side boards, skated towards goal and slid a pass to Hagan right in front for a score.

Hagan completed the hat trick with an empty net goal, assisted, of course, by Nolte.

“No matter where we are on the ice, we seem to just know where each other are,” Nolte said. “We just find the open spots, and we both can finish in the tight areas. It makes life easier when you have someone who can finish like [Hagan] can.”

While Nolte and Hagan didn’t start the season playing on the same line, they finished it together as state champions.

Canton Caps Historic Unbeaten Season with D2 Title

Canton boys hockey
Canton’s Ronan O’Mahony (23) jumps on the pile to celebrate the D2 State Championship. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BOSTON, Mass. – Canton went into Sunday afternoon’s Div. 2 state championship game against Tewksbury looking to put a fitting exclamation point on a historic season. The Bulldogs were trying to be the first team since Hanover won the D3 title in 2001 to finish a season unbeaten, be just the fourth team to win 25 games in a single year, and to earn the program’s first title since 2010.

Despite all that pressure, the Bulldogs did what they have done all season long – they found a way to win.

Behind a hat trick from junior Johnny Hagan and a goal and four assists by senior Ryan Nolte, Canton dispatched Tewksbury 6-2, closing out its season at 25-0-1.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

“It’s one of those things that it was hard not to know that we’d be good with the guys that we had back,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman, “but you still think you’re going to have a couple of tough games. It just goes to show how driven these guys are. That was their goal, to win every single game, and they did it.”

Nolte said, “It’s unbelievable. We knew in the summer that this was a goal, but, yeah, I don’t think the undefeated part came with it. We worked hard all off-season, so I think we deserved it and we went out and showed the work that we put in.”

Entering the playoffs unbeaten put a giant target on Canton’s back, but it seemed only to motivate the Bulldogs, who outscored opponents 29-3 during their tournament run. Canton scored six against Norwood in the D2 South semifinal, eight against Westwood in the final, and then another six against the Redmen on Sunday.

“They were just relentless, they did not stop,” Shuman explained. “We always say that it’s a 0-0 hockey game no matter the score, but they always played like that.”

Skating on the big ice and bright lights of the Garden can take some getting used to and it seemed like the Bulldogs needed a couple shifts to find their legs. Once they found their footing in the first period, the Bulldogs took control of the game.

Shane Marshall had the first chance on a feed from behind the net by Tommy Ghostlaw, but Tewksbury goalie Patrick Letourneau kept his pads down to block a pair of shots. Canton grabbed the lead five minutes into the game. Seconds after Nolte was denied on a shot from the left wing circle, Owen Lehane’s shot from the point rebounded to Timmy Kelleher for a tap-in.

Just about 90 seconds later and the lead was doubled. Ronan O’Mahony swung the puck across the blue line to Jack Connolly, who patiently crept towards the face-off circle before firing a low wrister just inside the post. Nolte added a third goal with a shot from the slot just 16 seconds later.

Three goals in less than two minutes had the Bulldogs thinking the title was as good as won.

Shuman said, “It seems like the story of the playoffs. We’ve played with a lot of pressure on us this entire postseason, but it’s amazing when you have a crew like these guys how quickly they can strike. It just goes to show the quality of players we have on that team.”

“It’s huge,” said Nolte about the early goals. “No matter what, Mike [Staffiere] will play his best every game, so if we get a few goals early that just makes us more confident. The earlier we score the better we feel because with Mike back there we know there won’t be too many pucks going in.”

The Redmen tried to cut into the lead early in the second period when Kyle Morris got free on a shorthanded breakaway but Mike Staffiere came through with a clutch glove save. Two minutes later, Canton got its own shorthanded odd-man rush that Tewksbury struggled to clear, the puck falling right to Hagan in the slot and he calmly put it away.

Tewksbury was down four goals but was playing much better in the second period. Staffiere again had to come up big to stop a pair of chances from the edge of the crease. The Redmen finally found a breakthrough after Morris stole the puck behind the Canton goal and played it out in front to Aaron Scott.

Chris Lavoie and Marshall nearly had instant responses for the Bulldogs but it remained 4-1 after two periods. The lead got smaller early in the third. Kyle Lombardo got a piece of a Campbell Pierce shot from the point, redirecting it past Staffiere to make it 4-2.

With 7:19 remaining, Canton added a big insurance goal on a power play. Nolte skated off the half-boards and picked out Hagan cutting to the goal. The junior took a touch to control and then buried his shot over the shoulder of Letourneau for a 5-2 lead.

“They carried us today,” said Shuman about his top line. “We kind of joked with Johnny, ‘where is your hat trick?’ and he had it today. He really stepped up. That line of Ryan, Johnny, and Timmy, what can you say about them? They played great.”

Tewksbury had a goal disallowed for an offsides call and with three minutes left decided to pull its goalie. Hagan sealed the title for the Bulldogs when he beat a defender to a loose puck and scored on the empty net.

“It definitely feels good and I’ll definitely remember this forever,” said Hagan about his hat trick. “I think we really tried to play within ourselves and not really get into the hype around us. We just played our game.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

One of the storylines throughout the playoff run was Canton bouncing back after being snubbed by the Super 8. Shuman, who played on the unbeaten 1998 Catholic Memorial team that won the Super 8, dismissed the idea that the Bulldogs were motivated by not being selected.

“That’s so far in the rearview mirror,” he said. “These guys, when we shared with them about the Super 8, they were just like, ‘okay, on to D2.’ This was their goal from day one and I can’t believe the maturity they showed when that happened. It didn’t motivate us, we just focused on taking care of business in D2.”

The Bulldogs took care of business and made history in the process. “I really don’t even think it’s set in yet,” said Hagan. “It will probably set in with the police escort, riding through the center of town. It’s unreal.”

Bulldogs Seal South Title With Dominant Performance

Canton boys hockey
Canton boys hockey celebrates with its D2 South championship trophy. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. – Canton is no stranger to playing important games at Gallo Arena. Coming into this year’s playoffs, the Bulldogs had played nine times in Bourne since winning the state title in 2010, reaching at least the sectional semifinal every year but one, but had only won twice at Gallo in that span.

After a convincing win against Norwood in the semifinal, Canton had the opportunity to end nearly a decade’s wait for a return to the TD Garden and set aside recent history in this venue. The Bulldogs did that in style, dominating second-seed Westwood from start to finish in the Div. 2 South final and putting an 8-0 exclamation point on their run to the final.

“It feels amazing,” said Canton senior goalie Mike Staffiere. “I pictured this in my mind when I was a little kid. In 2010, when they won it at the Garden, my Mite ‘A’ team was here to watch the state championship team win this game and it was one of the most special moments of my life.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

When asked about what made this year’s team different than previous Canton squads, including two South finalists, Canton coach Brian Shuman said, “The word that’s used most often to describe them is relentless. They just don’t stop. They work hard, they love each other, they play for each other, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I love it that on the ice all of them are saying one more, one more and that’s how they’ve been all year.”

Staffiere added, “I think we’re just more of a family this year. We’re so close on and off the ice and we’re always together, we’re all brothers, and I think that’s the difference.”

If there was any nervousness in the Canton locker room, the players certainly didn’t show it on the ice. The Bulldogs recorded the fist nine shots of the game, held an 18-5 advantage in shots after the first period, and needed only 43 seconds to get ahead. Johnny Hagan had a wraparound shot saved by Westwood goalie Ben Goodrich and the rebound skipped out to Owen Lehane at the blue line. His wrister snuck inside the post for the early lead.

“We just wanted a good start, we wanted to come out flying, and to come out hard,” said Shuman. “To get a goal in the first period is always a good way to start the game.”

Canton never looked back. Chris Lavoie nearly doubled the lead with a shot from the slot, but Goodrich made a big stop with his shoulder. Staffiere (19 saves) didn’t have much to do in the first but he was forced into a blocker save on a snap shot by Colin Fahey. The Bulldogs made their pressure pay with 3:19 left in the first, Ryan Nolte took his time in the left circle and fired a low shot that squeezed inside the near post.

After dominating play and grabbing a 2-0 lead in the first, Canton put the game away in the second.

Just a minute after the break, Timmy Kelleher blocked a puck at the blue line and then raced into the offensive zone to collect it. He dropped a pass off to Hagan in the slot and the junior took a look up and sniped the top corner on the stick side. Only 23 seconds later, Ryan Colby added a fourth.

The top line of Hagan, Nolte, and Kelleher was controlling the game and Westwood had no answer. With 12:10 left in the second, that trio combined for the fifth of the afternoon. Hagan had the initial shot and the rebound was pushed on goal by Nolte with Kelleher on hand to force it over the line.

Shuman said, “Timmy Kelleher I think played his best game of the season. He’s just a bruising right-wing. He made a great block that led to that goal.”

There was no letting up from the Bulldogs. Lavoie was the lone forechecker but he managed to swipe the puck from the Westwood defender on the right side of the net. The junior center brought it back to the other side and threw a puck in front looking for Tommy Ghostlaw in the crease, but it deflected off a Westwood player and looped into the goal.

Three minutes into the third period, Kelleher again showed the benefit of going to the net, as he followed up a chance by Nolte and knocked in the rebound to make it 7-0. Seven minutes later, Tommy Vaughan got in on the action. Eamon Kelly’s shot was going wide of the net, but it glanced off Vaughan’s skate and snuck in.

Westwood created some chances down the stretch, but Staffiere stood tall to preserve his shutout in the final. “I wanted it so bad,” he said about the shutout. “They had a couple of odd-man rushes but my ‘D’ played well and they helped me out to get that shutout.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

This is Staffiere’s first season in goal, after three years as a backup to Quinn Gibbs, and that has made the title even sweeter. He explained, “I did my time as a backup. I still worked hard every day and it really paid off. It’s amazing, my dreams are coming true.”

Canton (24-0-1) heads to the TD Garden next Sunday and will face either Boston Latin or Tewksbury in the state championship game. It has been an impressive run through the sectional for the Bulldogs, which didn’t allow the disappointment of not being chosen for the Super 8 deter them.

“That’s so far in our rearview mirror,” said Shuman of the Super 8 snub. “Those guys put that past them right away and all they wanted to do is move on and have a moment like this. The best part is that they’re not satisfied and they’re looking forward to that next game and whoever the North sends out.”

Relentless Bulldogs Put Six Past Norwood in Semifinal

Canton boys hockey Ryan Nolte
Canton senior Ryan Nolte attacks the goal against Norwood in the D2 South Semifinal. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BOURNE, Mass. – The game was scoreless for 12 minutes when Canton senior center Ryan Nolte won a face-off to the right of Norwood goalie Austin Reardon. Nolte kept possession of the puck, dragging it through the legs of a Mustangs defenseman, brought it back to his forehand and then roofed his shot from a tight angle.

It was a stellar opening goal for the unbeaten Bulldogs, eased some nerves for the top seed, and opened the floodgates for Canton in Tuesday’s Div. 2 South semifinal. Once the Bulldogs got their noses in front, they were relentless, scoring four times in the second period and rolling to a dominant 6-1 victory over the No. 5 seed.

“It was definitely huge,” Nolte said about getting in front. “Sophomore year was my first time really playing down here and we didn’t get any (1-0 overtime loss to Medway) and then last year we had the tough 3-0 start (against Plymouth South), so it was good to play with a lead throughout the game and just maintain it and putting some goals in.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Canton got off a to a great start and looked dangerous every time that it got into the attacking zone. Timmy Kelleher created the first good chance with a big hit behind the net to win back possession and he fed it out in front for Johnny Hagan, whose shot caught a piece of Reardon’s blocker and then the post.

Norwood nearly took advantage of a turnover to score the opener, but was denied by a hustling back-check from Tommy Ghostlaw. The Bulldogs then got a chance in front when Tommy Vaughan angled in from the near boards and picked out Colby Ciffolillo, but Reardon again made the stop.

Finally, with 2:55 left in the first, Canton’s pressure paid off with Nolte stepping up and going bar down on a wrister to put the Bulldogs in front.

“The plan was just get more pucks and bodies to the net,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “We’ve been through some crazy games down here and a lot of times those crazy games start off with letting up goals early. I think if you can get up early down here and get up early this time of the year, it’s always a big step in the right direction.”

The Bulldogs had to clear off two penalties, including one that stretched into the second, but going on the penalty kill hardly slowed their momentum. Chris Lavoie had a chance from the slot that Reardon spilled but managed to recover in time to deny Ghostlaw on the rebound.

A little more than two minutes later, Lavoie got on the board to double Canton’s lead. The play was made by Shane Marshall, who managed to block a clearance at the blue line under pressure, got enough space to get his head up and flicked a pass to Lavoie in the high slot. The junior went blocker side to make it 2-0.

Canton added a third a minute later when Nolte held off a check behind the net and saucered a pass to Hagan right in front and the junior didn’t miss from close-range. The duo combined for the fourth goal of the night as well. Hagan ripped a wrist shot off Nolte’s face-off win. The puck trickled behind Reardon and Nolte reacted first to prod it over the line for a shorthanded goal.

“We’ve been playing together forever, so we know where we are on the ice at all times,” Nolte said about playing on the same line with Hagan. “It’s just good to know that if I throw one in front he’s going to be there to put it home and vice versa. It’s fun and hopefully we can keep it going for a few more games.”

On the same power play, Norwood got one back. Mike Staffiere made the first two stops but the puck slid off to his left and, with the goalie prone in the crease, Chris Martin was in the right place to tap it home. Any momentum for the Mustangs lasted less than two minutes. Owen Lehane lined up a wrister from the blue line that snuck through traffic and, with the help of a deflection off a Norwood player in front, snuck inside the post to make it 5-1.

“We have a good mindset after scoring a goal to not let up and going right back out after a goal. no matter what the score is, and keep the pressure on,” said Nolte. “I thought we did a good job of it tonight.”

Reardon needed to be at his best to keep it a four-goal game early in the third, as Hagan set up Kelleher at the back post only for the goalie to get a toe across. With 8:32 to go, freshman Eamon Kelly burst through the middle of the Norwood zone, split a pair of defenders and the lifted a backhand shot stick side to get Canton’s sixth.

Nolte had a chance at his hat trick after a pinpoint three-line pass from defenseman Declan Pfeffer, but he couldn’t get his shot over Reardon’s glove. Undeterred, Nolte then popped up in his defensive zone, chasing back when the Mustangs got a three-on-one and getting a poke check in to deny a scoring chance.

“He played well in all three zones,” Shuman said of Nolte. “Not many players can be that good defensively, that good in the neutral zone, and that good in the offensive zone, and kill penalties the way he does. It’s a testament to his skill but to how smart of a player he is too.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

While the offense will get the headlines, the Canton defensive corps had another impressive performance. The Bulldogs have allowed only 21 goals in 24 games this season and the top two pairings of Jack Connolly and Ronan O’Mahony and Matt Martin and Lehane, held Norwood to only 12 shots through the first two periods and kept the front of the net largely clear for Staffiere (20 saves).

“I’m really happy with all four lines playing well tonight, played big minutes and played regular shifts, which I think was big for us tonight,” said Shuman. “It was really a team win. It’s not a cliche, it really was a team win. I thought all the guys played well tonight.”

After three straight losses at the semifinal stage, Canton boys hockey (23-0-1) is back to its first South final since 2015 and will face No. 2 seed Westwood (the same team that they faced in the 2015 final and the team that shares a home with the Bulldogs at the Canton Ice House), after the Wolverines beat Medfield 3-2 in the first semifinal of the night.

Canton Emerges Victorious Against Gritty Oliver Ames

Canton boys hockey
Canton senior Ryan Nolte tries to keep the puck from Oliver Ames’ Matt McCormack (right) in the third period. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
ByRyanLanigan_2016FollowRyanLanigan_2016
 
 
CANTON, Mass. – The top-seeded Canton boys hockey team is headed back to the Division 2 South Semifinals after earning their second straight shutout.

But it was far from easy.

The unbeaten Bulldogs were put to the test by ninth-seeded and league rival Oliver Ames, with the Tigers consistently applying pressure over the course of 45 minutes. In the end, a patient Canton team cashed in twice inside a one-minute span and, more importantly, didn’t allow Oliver Ames to do the same in a 3-0 victory.

“[Oliver Ames] is a team that always plays us hard, they’ve done so for years,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman. “And they played us hard tonight, they came out flying. They pinned us, they hit us, and I was proud of our guys for battling through that. Every playoff game is like a rollercoaster ride and you have to survive the onslaughts and punch back like we did.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

The Tigers were strong from the opening puck drop, flying all over the ice and coming up with a couple of good goal scoring chances. Just minutes in, senior Matt McCormack made a leaping stop to prevent a Canton clear resulting in a good chance from Cullen Gallagher, but Canton goalie Mike Staffiere (17 saves) made the stop.

Just minutes later, the Tigers had a chance at a two-on-one, but Bulldog defenseman Ryan Sullivan thwarted the chance before a pass or shot could happen. A Canton error in the neutral zone led to a chance for OA senior Brett Williams, but the puck wouldn’t lie flat, and his shot was gobbled up by Staffiere.

As the period went on, Canton started to get more of the play, and Timmy Kelleher’s tough angle shot from the left circle forced a paddle save from OA junior goalie Owen Connor (27 saves), and a rebound chance from Johnny Hagan was denied as well.

With just a minute left in the first, Kelleher won a foot race to get in on goal but his close shot was denied by Connor, bringing a physical, back-and-forth, well-played first period to a close.

“I don’t think we could have played a better game,” said Oliver Ames head coach Sean Bertoni. “We preached effort, effort, effort, and it’s such a simple term, but I’m not sure many teams could do it for three periods like we did against one of the best teams in the state. They did everything I asked so it’s a little frustrating they weren’t rewarded for it, but that’s sports. The effort was there through the whole game, and we had some chances.

“Their effort is what got them here. That was our recipe for success all year. No matter what there are going to be lulls, and you’ll make hockey mistakes, but the effort was always there. I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”

OA had another bright start to the second period with freshman Bryan Kearns forcing a turnover, and Williams linking up with Gallagher in front for a backhand shot that was just over the bar. Five minutes later, Duncan Pereira blasted a shot that was saved by Staffiere into the air, bounced off his back, and just wide of the post.

Similar to the first, Canton was able to handle the strong push from the Tigers early and take control as the period went on. This time, senior Joe Robinson linked up with classmate Ryan Colby to force an odd-man rush, and Oliver Ames was forced to take a penalty.

The first power play of the game resulted in the first goal of the game as well. Just over 30 seconds into the man-advantage, junior Jack Connolly ripped a low shot/pass through traffic that found Canton senior Ryan Nolte positioned perfectly for a tip-in from right in close, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead with 6:57 to go in the second period.

With momentum on their side, the Bulldogs struck again before a minute elapsed. This time, it was senior Matt Martin delivering a shot from the blue line through traffic with junior Chris Lavoie providing the redirect right in front, making it 2-0 with 6:09 left in the second period.

“The second one was huge,” Shuman said. “Both goals came from point shots too. Jack Connolly with a great shot to find Ryan on the back door and then Matty Martin just getting the puck through, which is what we try to do. [OA] does a good job of collapsing in their zone and protecting the middle of the zone so our defense was going to have to get shots through for us to have some offense.”

Oliver Ames nearly cut the deficit in half on a chance with just over a minute to go in the second. Williams skated into the offensive zone, drawing the defenseman but slid a pass across to an open Kearns, but his wrist shot clanked off the crossbar and stayed out.

“You would think it would hurt, but our two themes this year were effort and resiliency,” Bertoni said of the back-to-back goals. “You have to push back after a goal, and I thought we did after the second one. Obviously, it’s a little deflating but the guys didn’t show it, didn’t change how they played. Power plays are going to happen, the puck had eyes and it found one of the best players. Tough to give up the two goals but it didn’t change how we played which was great to see.

“We hit the crossbar late in the second, we had a couple of other chances…we were still buzzing despite not scoring. That was one of our best games all year for three full periods. We didn’t give them much time, we did a good job of taking it away. They did everything we wanted, they were aggressive, they were physical, we just came up short.”

Connor came up with a big stop early in the third, denying Lavoie in front after a nice feed from junior Shane Marshall. Staffiere answered on the other end, stopping a shot from Ryan Gottwald that was set up by a block from Gallagher.

The Tigers got their first power play of the game with 9:55 left in the third, but Lavoie, Connolly, and Nolte all came up with clearances to limit OA’s chances. The lone chance came off the stick of Max Ward, who beat a pair of Canton players as he entered the offensive zone and snapped a wrist shot that was gloved by Staffiere.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Hagan created a turnover for Canton in the offensive zone but was denied by the post, and minutes later, OA’s Williams was turned away when his shot went off of Staffiere’s mask.

In the final seconds, Hagan connected with Kelleher for the empty net goal, the assist giving Hagan his 100th career point.

Oliver Ames finishes the season 14-9-1. Canton boys hockey (22-0-1) will take on #5 Norwood (13-3-6) on Tuesday at 7:30 at Gallo Ice Arena.

Canton Makes Final Case For Super 8 With Big Win

Canton boys hockey Eamon Kelly
Canton freshman Eamon Kelly carries the puck into the attacking zone in the first period. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
ByRyanLanigan_2016FollowRyanLanigan_2016
 
 
RAYNHAM, Mass. – The Canton boys hockey team rested its case on Thursday evening.

The Bulldogs wrapped up an undefeated regular season, putting the finishing touches on their Super 8 résumé with an emphatic exclamation point: a 6-1 thumping of Coyle & Cassidy in the Joe Quinn Memorial tournament championship game.

While the evidence seems to lie in favor of the Bulldogs, it will now be up to the jury, in this case the Super 8 committee, to decide if Canton (20-0-1) will reach the state’s Division 1A tournament for the first time in program history.

“We did the best we could,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Canton suffered its lone blemish — a tie — on Wednesday evening when it skated to a 2-2 tie against Boston Latin (14-3-3). The Bulldogs did, however, prevail in overtime which doesn’t count during the regular season but would factor in during the MIAA playoffs.

The Bulldogs finish with 104 goals scored, averaging 4.9 goals per game while allowing just 20 goals on the season, less than one per game.

“They will knock our strength of schedule, but you can only play the best schedule of teams that want to play you,” Shuman said. “We asked a lot of teams to play us that didn’t want to. That’s fine, I get it. But one thing you can’t take away from a team is when they go unbeaten. There is nothing harder in sports. Our guys were able to do that while they got everybody’s best, every single game. From the start of the season to the end, every single team wanted to knock them off. We were able to fight and earn this record.”

With a chance to bounce back from the tie, Canton passed the test with flying colors. The Bulldogs dominated on both ends of the ice, taking a lead late in the first period, adding four goals in a lopsided second period, and tacking on one more in the third before sitting the majority of its top two lines for the final minutes.

“Absolutely, we needed this,” Shuman said. “This is a tournament that gets you ready for the playoffs. It has overtime, and I think every year we’ve played in one. People ask if we were disappointed with the tie? No, we won in overtime. That’s what I was most proud of. They fought hard and had a good win over Latin and had an emphatic win today.”

Canton controlled the entire first period, but it didn’t show on the scoreboard until just one minute left in the opening frame. The Bulldogs had a pair of power plays, killed off a penalty in-between, and racked up a 17-2 advantage in shots on goal.

Midway through the period, freshman Eamon Kelly nearly opened the scoring when he redirected a blast from senior Tommy Dimock, but Coyle goalie Brett Borges made a positional save. A minute later, junior Johnny Hagan won the faceoff, stepped around a Coyle player and rang the corner of the crossbar.

Off an offensive zone faceoff, Canton junior Ronan O’Mahoney fired a shot from the blue line that trickled past Borges. The puck was cleared off the line but only as far as defenseman Jack Connolly, who quickly tossed the puck back on net. The rebound fell right to Kelly and he tucked it right inside the post for a 1-0 lead.

“The goal at the end of the first was huge,” Shuman said. “Coyle was playing with a lot of emotion, a lot of passion, they want to win it for their coach. They came out with a lot of energy so to get the goal late was huge. It was a great pass from Jack to Eamon, who had a great game. A freshman thrown onto the second line had a huge impact on this game with two goals, couldn’t be prouder.

“We had a couple of guys get hurt throughout the season so we brought him up and he’s stayed with us. He’s been a big part of us this year, kind of a third and fourth liner. But I had a hunch about his speed and physicality, and he had a great game today.”

The momentum gained with the late goal in the first carried over to the second. Just one minute in, Hagan collected the puck along the boards and whipped a pass in front that senior Ryan Nolte redirected in for a quick 2-0 lead.

Less than two minutes later, the Bulldogs continued to press, and a lengthy offensive zone possession ended with a wrist shot goal from senior Matt Martin to make it 3-0 with 12:20 to go in the second.

Coyle got on the board with 7:56 left in the second, the puck deflecting from behind the net back out front and was batted in.

But before Coyle could even think about cutting the deficit down further, Canton extended the lead back to three with a goal 30 seconds later. Nolte had his way with the Coyle defense but his shot was stopped. The rebound, however, bounced right out to Hagan all alone in front and he calmly placed his shot into the back of the net for a 4-1 lead.

“That’s a big thing, you have to be able to push back after you score a goal, and you have to be able to push back once they score a goal, and we did that,” Shuman said.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

The onslaught carried through the period. Kelly grabbed his second of the game with 2:44 to go, collecting the puck in the left circle and firing a wrist shot that was partially saved but had enough mustard to beat the glove.

Nolte put the cherry on top less than four minutes into the third period. The senior dangled around a defenseman, faked a shot at the near post and dragged it around Borges and tucked it in at the far post for a 6-1 lead.

Canton boys hockey will learn its tournament fate when the tournament committee gathers in Franklin on Saturday morning.

Canton’s Rooney Turns Hard Work Into NHL Success

Kevin Rooney
Former Canton star Kevin Rooney (58) reacts after scoring his first NHL goal for the New Jersey Devils against the Chicago Blackhawks. (Andy Marlin/New Jersey Devils)

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Kevin Rooney just couldn’t stop smiling. After a great save denied his New Jersey Devils teammate Drew Stafford from a goal, the puck slid invitingly into Rooney’s path as he skated in from the right circle. He took a look up and smashed a one-timer inside the far post for the first goal of his NHL career. The former Canton High standout and star of the 2010 Div. 2 state champion team wheeled away to the far boards with a grin that stretched from ear-to-ear. Even as the teams lined up for the ensuing face-off, the smile remained.


“It was one of those things that you dream about as a little kid and to finally see that puck go across the line was pretty special,” Rooney said. “It just helps with your confidence, feeling like you belong out there. I think it helped me a ton and I feel like since then I’ve played even better.”

Rooney can be forgiven for wanting to savor that moment. His path to the NHL was not preordained. He wasn’t a can’t-miss prospect coming out of high school or after two years at Berkshire Academy or even after four years at Providence College, where he was part of the program’s first national title in 2015. Making it to the top level was all about hard work.

“If you look at his track record since high school, it’s been the same, he has improved year-in and year-out,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman, who coached Rooney in high school. “He’s made the strides he needed to make it to the next level. There were things he was able to do to take advantage of those opportunities, which is something we still try to teach kids today.”

Rooney remarked, “These opportunities don’t come around too often so I want to make sure that when the end comes that I don’t have any regrets.”

It is no surprise that Rooney found his way onto the ice. His uncle Steve graduated from Canton in 1981, played at PC, and then went on to play for the Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets, and the Devils. His cousin Chris played at PC and his cousin Joe played at Boston College. His father David played at Canton and his brother Bryan was part of the 2009 Canton team that went to the state title game and then played at Stonehill College.

Canton Youth Hockey was the starting point and he also played with the South Shore Kings leading up to high school. When he got to Canton High, Rooney wasn’t an instant sensation. Shuman remembered him scoring maybe a handful of goals as a freshman for a team that went 15-5 and won the league title. Even the following year, the Bulldogs won 18 games, another league title, and reached the state championship game, but it was Bryan Rooney, not Kevin, that was the star.

It was the work that he put in between his sophomore and junior seasons that turned Rooney from a good high school player into a legit college prospect.

“He was the most improved player that I’ve ever coached from one year to the next,” said Shuman. “His speed went from above-average to exceptional and his strength and everything just improved and it wasn’t by accident. I know he worked hard that summer. He worked with a strength and conditioning coach, you’d see him running around town, constantly doing something to improve.”

Even though both Rooney and Shuman admit the 2008-09 team was probably a deeper team, it was the 2009-10 team that would bring home the trophy, avenging the previous season’s loss to Newburyport in the TD Garden. Shuman credited Rooney’s ability to make the players around him better for being a catalyst to the Bulldogs winning it all.

“It’s so hard to have people to believe this when I say it but that was the most fun hockey I’ve ever been a part of and it’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” said Rooney. “Those memories at Canton High were some of the best I have and it’s because you’re playing with kids you grew up with. Your best friends are your teammates, and just being able to play in front of your hometown every game is something special.

“I can remember almost all those games and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

During the 2009-10 season, college scouts noticed Rooney and suggested he had the potential to play at the next level but that he might need to make a move to achieve that dream. Once the season was over, Rooney sat down with Shuman to discuss his future. In the end, he had accomplished all that he could with the Bulldogs and he decided to transfer to Berkshire Academy to continue his development as a player.

“It was something that I definitely don’t regret, but it was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my hockey career,” Rooney reflected. “It was tough. I would’ve loved to say that I graduated from Canton High but it was something that was going to help my hockey career and my future.”

Once the decision to leave Canton was made, Rooney knew that he had to make it count and develop his game to play at the next level. He said, “ I don’t want to leave and then just end up going to college and not playing hockey.” His two seasons at Berkshire led to a few offers and he chose to play with his cousin at PC, coming in as part of new head coach Nate Leaman’s first recruiting class.

In 2015, Rooney returned to the TD Garden, where he won the state title for the Bulldogs, and helped PC beat Boston University in a dramatic final to win the national title. “I’ve got some pretty special memories at the Garden for sure,” he said. “First was the state title, then the national championship, and my second NHL game was there too.” That season was also the first time that Rooney started thinking about his pro prospects and he attended developments camps in Toronto and Chicago that summer.

He signed an amateur contract with Albany of the AHL following his senior season at PC. He scored 13 goals and recorded eight assists in 71 games. The Devils signed him to his first NHL contract in February 2017. Two nights later, Rooney took the ice against the Washington Capitals.

“When I got on the ice for warm-ups, did the lap and what not, and I barely even woke up after that because I was just staring at the other end with [Alexander] Ovechkin and [T.J.] Oshie and those guys,” Rooney said. “I was just kind of in shock. It was surreal.”

Since signing with the Devils, Rooney has bounced back and forth between the big club and its minor league affiliate in Binghamton. He admits that it is difficult to not have a consistent place on the roster but that he has learned from other players who have gone through the same situation and is keeping his focus on doing whatever the team needs and securing a consistent role with the Devils.

“The biggest thing for me is being more consistent and putting two, three, or four games together rather than having just one good game,” he explained. “It’s easy to be a call-up and have adrenaline for one game and play well and it’s another to do that consistently and that’s what I’m trying to show the coaches now is that I can consistently be an everyday NHL player.”

It is rare for players to come through the Hockomock League and play professionally and Shuman believes that Rooney is an inspiration not only because of where he ended up but how he got to this stage in his career.

“He can be an inspiration for any type of player,” Shuman said, “because he wasn’t a freshman that came in and set the world on fire, but the fact that he improved as much he did can be relatable to anybody. For our top players, he’s an inspiration because, even though he was good, he never settled. He always wanted to be better and I think that’s a good message.”

Rooney tried to explain his mentality. He said, “You have to continue to have those childhood dreams that you had growing up and find ways at each level to solidify a role. Every team needs role players. If you’re a scorer at Canton, you may not be that at the next level and you need to understand how to stick. Just find out what the team needs and find out what you can do to help that team in any possible way.”


In the first period of Thursday night’s game against the New York Islanders, Rooney raced into the attacking zone with the puck and ripped a shot high on the glove side to put New Jersey in front.

It has been a long road from the Ponkapoag Rink to the NHL, but no matter where he is playing Kevin Rooney continues to make his mark.

Nolte Hits Milestone and Canton Edges North to Title

Canton boys hockey
Canton senior forward Ryan Nolte (22) scored one goal and set up two others, reaching 100 career points and helping the Bulldogs to a dramatic win that clinched a ninth straight league title. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The puck was dug out on the near boards and angled towards Canton defenseman Owen Lehane, who was hanging at the blue line. The junior lined up a slap shot that deflected almost immediately off a North Attleboro stick and knuckled, weaving its way through traffic, past North goalie Ryan Warren and somehow under the bar.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

For the second straight game, the Bulldogs had pulled out a win in the closing minutes. Lehane’s goal with just 2:08 remaining in Sunday afternoon’s matinee at the New England Sports Village handed Canton a 3-2 victory and clinched the program’s ninth league title in a row.

“It’s a long season and especially this time of year when you get into the middle of January and guys are sick, guys are hurt, so if you can pull out a win when it’s not your best day it says a lot about a team and it says a lot about our guys,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman, who gave a lot of credit to the Rocketeers for making it tough all game.

He added, “I think they dominated most of the game. They had more puck possession than we did, they had certainly more zone time than us, they had more shot attempts, and they really did outplay us. Even the first period didn’t feel right. We had two goals but they were making it very difficult for us and I didn’t think the score reflected the game.”

North Attleboro coach Ben McManama could only shrug at the way the game ended, as the Rocketeers had gone toe-to-toe with (and at times outplayed) not only one of the Hockomock League’s perennial powers but a team that was just added to the initial watch list for the Super 8.

“We realized something about ourselves today, which is great,” McManama explained. “We wanted the win or even the tie, but we realize that when we move our feet and work hard, then we can hang with anybody. I think it’s a good lesson that we learned today but we just have to keep on going.”

Digging the puck out on the boards to set up the Lehane winner was senior forward Ryan Nolte. It was his second assist of the day, to go along with the one goal he scored, and with his three-point haul on Sunday he reached the 100-point milestone for his career.

“He’s someone that always seems to show up and make big plays in a game like this,” Shuman said of Nolte. “He made little plays that he normally wouldn’t do like throw a big hit in the neutral zone in the middle of the game when we needed that. He was important in all areas of the ice tonight.”

The Rocketeers came out of the gates trying to set a physical tone and looked faster and sharper, but it was the Bulldogs that got the goals. Nolte set up the opener five minutes into the game when he fired a pass from behind the goal line out to Matt Pigeon at the point. The defenseman’s shot was tipped in front by Chris Lavoie, giving Warren (22 saves) no chance.

North almost leveled the score just a minute later when Justin Moccia found himself alone on the edge of the crease. Canton goalie Mike Staffiere (20 saves) managed to scramble and get a piece of the shot and then got a piece of luck when the rebound looped up and landed on the bar before bouncing behind the goal.

Only a minute later and Canton had doubled its lead. Nolte cut across the slot and initially lost control and whiffed on his first attempt, but he stayed with the puck and whipped a backhand on goal. The puck caught Warren trying to slide across and it slipped through the five-hole to make it 2–0.

“Our group’s very good in that they’re very resilient,” said McManama. “Some teams would’ve gone in the tank after the two goals, I mean it’s Canton, but we just kept battling back. Since day one when I got here that’s the team I was trying to bring out. I’m happy with what we did today.”

The game changed in a span of 23 seconds. First a slip on the blue line allowed Dennis Morehouse to steal the puck and find space to rifle a shot from the right circle inside the far post to cut the lead in half. Nine seconds after the goal, North went on the game’s first power play. Fourteen seconds after that, the game was tied.

Brendan McHugh started the offensive set by making a grab at the blue line to keep the puck in the zone. North got a shot on goal and Staffiere made the first stop. The rebound was initially played into the side of the net but Anthony Zammiello kept following the puck and knocked it in.

Lavoie nearly nabbed his second of the game but Warren flashed a quick glove to deny his shot from the left circle. Shane Marshall had a good chance for the Bulldogs as well when he flicked a quick shot from the slot but Warren was just as quick with his pad. Zammiello had a pair of chances, one set up in front by Jack Connolly and the second on a breakaway, but both times Staffiere had the answer.

“We were dumping the puck in and that’s what happens when you play a team physical, stay up in the neutral zone, and close your gaps,” said Shuman about Canton’s struggles to develop consistent attacks. “We had so many opportunities to make that one pass for an odd-man rush and we would just dump the puck in and that’s all credit to their play that got us a little antsy with the puck.”

The first half of the third period was all Rocketeers. North came flying out of the locker room and had the first six shots of the period. Canton didn’t get a puck on net until the 7:40 mark of the third. The best chance fell to Matt McSweeney, who was picked out in front by freshman Nik Kojoian, but Staffiere made a big pad stop to keep the scores level.

Despite all the North pressure, Canton held onto the tie and then got the one moment it needed to keep its perfect start to the season alive.

“I’ve been around hockey for a long time,” McManama said. “It’s no secret that good teams get those good breaks. We also did very well defensively, we worked really hard, they made some big saves, and I thought it was all-around a great hockey game.”

It is the ninth straight league title, and 11th in 12 seasons. No other team has won a Davenport crown in the nine years since the league split into different divisions. It speaks to the level of consistency as a program that the Bulldogs have displayed down the years.

Shuman said, “We talked about how fortunate we are to be competing every year for league championships. It’s a testament to the guys before and to our guys now that they are able to rise to that level every year. We don’t take it for granted.”

Canton (13-0, 9-0) will try to complete a perfect league campaign when it hosts Taunton on Wednesday. North Attleboro (7-6-1, 5-2-1) will try to make history on Wednesday when it travels to Pirelli Veterans Arena to face Kelley-Rex division leader Franklin, which the Rocketeers have never beaten.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.