FOXBORO, Mass. – Canton has developed a well-earned reputation for being a team that finds ways to win big games. The Bulldogs focus on the defensive zone, get the puck deep and forecheck, and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to them. Saturday evening’s league title showdown with King Philip at the Foxboro Sports Center was another example.
Even after falling behind inside the opening two minutes of the game, Canton never looked flustered. The Bulldogs went 3-for-3 on the power play, got three goals from defensemen, made timely saves to prevent KP from getting momentum, and skated to a 5-1 win that puts them just two points from clinching their third league title in four years and becoming the first Hock team to repeat as champion.
As if winning the title wasn’t enough motivation, the Bulldogs were also playing with head coach Dennis Aldrich in mind.
“They realized that they had an opportunity and I think they’re really motivated by Coach Aldrich,” said Canton assistant Nick Maffeo. “I think it means a lot to them that he’s watching from the hospital and that he’s pulling for them. They really believed in themselves and that was huge for us.”
He added, “That’s their goal in this shortened season, this crazy season, to try and capture the Hockomock League. It’s important to them, especially for the seniors.”
Just like in the first meeting between the teams, the Warriors got off to the perfect start. Freshman Kelly Holmes split a pair of defenders and drove to the net. Carolyn Durand (15 saves) made the initial stop but the rebound popped out to Jen Daniels on the post and she knocked it in for a lead just 1:44 into the game.
Unlike the first meeting, KP was not able to sustain that momentum past the opening few minutes.
“In their barn, we were flying the whole game, we were chasing pucks, were first on pucks, won one-on-one battles,” said KP coach Ken Assad. “Today was nothing like that except the first one or two minutes and I just don’t know why it’s not consistent.”
A power play sparked the Bulldogs into life. Maya Battista camped out on the edge of the right circle and she fired a wrister in off the post to tie the game. It was only Canton’s second shot on goal in the opening eight minutes.
Canton closed the first period with a flurry of chances. Lizzie Tassinari’s outlet pass sprung Maria Femia to drive at the KP goal, but Mallory Johnston (23 saves) kept her pads down to make the stop. Ellie Bohane’s pass across the crease nearly created a second goal, but Audrey Koen’s tip went just wide.
KP nearly regained the lead a minute into the second. Daniels went one-on-one with Canton defender Kylie Martone and forced Durand into a good pad save.
Again it was a penalty that would stall the KP energy and put Canton in front for the first time. This time it was Allie McCabe that popped up with the goal, as she eased in from the blue line, taking the space that the KP defense was giving up, and fired a wrist shot through a crowd and inside the post.
“I think our defense has been a strength for years and years and this is something we’ve worked on all season,” Maffeo explained. “Our defense is committed to offensive zone, neutral zone, and defensive zone and we work on that and practice that and they have confidence in that.”
Sydney O’Shea was one of KP’s best outlets on offense and she forced Durand into another good stop, but Canton was taking control of the game and doubled its lead with 6:59 left in the period. Battista’s shot from the point was kicked aside, but Canton kept the puck in the zone and it cycled around to Koen in the left circle. She turned and fired and found the back of the net to make it 3-1.
The game could have been put away in the second. Canton outshot the Warriors 15-7 in the period and dominated zone time. Johnston came through with a pair of point-blank saves to deny Tassinari on the doorstep and then McCabe saw a shot come back off the post.
“The depth they have is incredible,” said Assad. “You have to match line-for-line with them and we tried. A team like that, once you score a goal you’ve got to stay on them, keep pressuring them.”
Even with Canton controlling play, KP had a couple of chances to make it a one-goal game. In the final seconds of the period, Avari Maxwell got free for a one-timer inside the left circle that seemed destined for the back of the net only for Durand to get across with her blocker. Fifteen seconds into the third, Katarina Precobb fired a pass from the near boards out in front to Morgan Cunningham but she was unable to get a clean shot off and Durand covered.
“It was there and I thought it was a goal but she came out of nowhere with that pad,” said Assad about Maxwell’s chance. “I thought that would’ve been great being down one going into the third. We had a great talk between periods, they came out and did exactly what we wanted to do, went after the net, and it just didn’t happen.”
Those misses would be costly. Just 32 seconds into the third, Battista whipped a shot in from the left point that somehow eluded the bodies in front and snuck past Johnston to make it 4-1.
Canton is a tough team to play against when they have a lead late in the game. The Bulldogs spent long stretches in the attacking zone. Although they weren’t creating a lot of chances, they were keeping the Warriors pinned back.
Maffeo said, “Because of our commitment to the defensive style of play, once we can get some offense generated then we can play the game we’re most comfortable with, all of our forwards back-checking and supporting our D.”
KP did have a couple of opportunities to maybe get back into the game. Holmes and Daniels forced a double save out of Durand with 10 minutes remaining. A minute later, O’Shea drove at the goal from a tight angle and tried to stuff in a backhand, but again had no way past the Canton netminder.
With 1:18 to go, on another power play, Tassinari wrapped up the win for the visitors. She spun on the puck in the high slot and ripped a shot past Johnston’s outstretched pad to make it 5-1.
Canton (7-1, 5-1) will take on Mansfield/Oliver Ames twice in the next two days needing a point to clinch at least a share of the league title. King Philip (4-3-1, 3-2-1) will face Stoughton/Sharon and root for the Warriors to trip Canton up.
But the overtime period? That was completely up for grabs.
In the end, the pendulum swung in favor of the Rocketeers just once more than it did for the visiting Bulldogs as North Attleboro claimed a 52-50 win over Canton inside Kenneth Pickering Gymnasium.
The decision was split after 32 minutes of action, North Attleboro claiming a double-digit first half advantage only for Canton to completely flip the script in the second half, stifling the Rocketeers’ offense and turning stops into points, and a deficit into a lead.
“We felt good about getting to overtime because we were on our last life for what felt like forever,” said North Attleboro head coach Sean Mulkerrins. “To get to overtime, we stole the momentum and their bench quieted down a bit. It was big to get points on the first possession. For us, it was just continuing what got us back into it against their zone and we had to keep playing good defense. It was a great Hockomock basketball game, felt like a playoff game almost. We made just enough plays.”
North Attleboro’s lead at halftime, 26-10, took a major hit when Canton came out swinging in the form of a 10-2 run in just over two minutes of action, putting the hosts on their heels. By the end of the third eight-minute segment, North Attleboro’s lead shrunk down to just five, 31-26, the Rocketeers getting a much-needed three from senior Tommy Onorato in the final minute.
It turned out to be a sign of things to come for Onorato, who finished with a career-high 12 points, and the Rocketeers. Canton’s comeback continued into the fourth though as a pair of free throws from Steven Burbank (12 points, six rebounds) preceded a three from Will Keefe (12 points) that gave Canton its first lead since the opening moments of the game.
Eric Mischler (11 points, eight rebounds) sliced his way to the rim for two, the Bulldogs earned back-to-back stops and Keefe tossed another triple in and Canton, on the back of a 12-1 run, suddenly had a 40-34 lead with 1:34 to play.
“It’s kind of been like that in the Davenport this year, seems like one team brings it for a half and another brings it the other half,” said Canton head coach Ryan Gordy. “It was kind of the opposite when we played them at home, we had a good first three quarters and they came back in the fourth. We talked at halftime about how we could get back into this game. Instead of quitting, the kids made a commitment and the effort to really start rebounding and playing defense, which got us back into the game.”
North Attleboro had an answer to stem the tide. With the defense collapsing on him in the paint, senior George Ladd (16 points, 15 rebounds) dished it out to Brody Rosenberg (seven points), who hit his first field goal of the game with a triple to halve the deficit.
Ryan Connerney (13 points, five assists) pushed the lead back to five when he sank a pair of free throws but North Attleboro had another answer from downtown. This time, Casey Poirier (four points, eight assists, four rebounds, two steals) dished it to Onorato for a three with 41.1 left to make it 42-40.
Canton added to its lead with a free throw but once again the Rocketeers, who had just five makes from three-point range through the first three quarters, hit their third three of crunch time. Poirier was short on his attempt from the corner but followed his shot, got the rebound, and dished it to senior Edan Kelley for a three – his first make of the game – from the top of the key to tie the game with 12 seconds to go.
“Tommy Onorato, I’m really proud of him, the second half of the season he’s really stepped into a nice role for us and understood what it took to be on the court,” Mulkerrins said. “Edan, a senior co-captain, missed some time this year and still isn’t completely back but hit a big shot. He’s got that big moment in him.”
The Bulldogs’ attempt at a game-winner was off the mark, only getting a chance to chuck a shot off an inbounds play with 0.6 seconds to go.
In overtime, the momentum swings continued back and forth as North opened the scoring when Ladd converted an offensive rebound but Canton went back ahead on their third look of the possession on a Mischler three, with Dillon Nguyen’s offensive rebound the catalyst of the play.
But just seconds after Mischler gave the visitors a slight lead, Rosenberg hit his second three of the night to put the hosts ahead. The teams traded stops as the game ticked under a minute to go, North Attleboro getting its biggest stop forcing a turnover. With the shot clock shrinking, Onorato stepped up and drained another three, this one with 14 seconds to go in overtime, to give North a 51-46 lead.
Canton fought to the very end, getting two free throws from Burbank to make it a one-possession game. A trap on the inbounds led to a jump ball and Canton getting possession back. Another foul led to two free throws from Connerney, making it a one-point game, 51-50, with 7.8 seconds to go.
The Bulldogs trapped once again and got another jump ball called, but the ball stayed with the Rocketeers. Rosenberg added a free throw to make it 52-50, and North Attleboro held on as Canton’s half-court heave was just off the mark.
North Attleboro had full control of the opening half, hitting 7-of-10 field goals from two-point range to go along with four three-pointers. And on the defensive end, the Rocketeers were doing just enough to keep the streaky Bulldogs from getting going.
Tied early, North closed the final three minutes of the first with an 8-0 burst. Onorato hit his first three of the game, Poirier added a triple, and Ladd attacked the rim for two and a 14-6 lead after one.
Big Red’s run continued into the second with Jared Vacher tossing in a three, Ladd getting back-to-back baskets and Nate Bennett scoring from in close for a 17-0 run in total. Jimmy Caraballo added a three as well as North staked a 26-10 halftime lead.
“Basketball is a game of runs and there’s some psychology behind it,” Mulkerrins said. “I thought the scoreboard was deceptive at half. I thought we played good but not as good as the other night and I felt Canton missed a lot of shots that they can make. I told them at half, if they make a couple in the second half they are going to relax, and then their defense will get better, and sure enough they hit some shots right away. Then the basket on our end starts looking smaller.
“Coach Gordy did a great job adjusting, made some changes. You never know exactly what you’re going to get with him, you’ll get the kitchen sink of tricks and if you aren’t mentally ready, which we learned on Monday night, you’re going to be on the wrong side of games against them. So hats off to them, they had a great season with a lot of great seniors, we have nothing but respect for that program.”
After North found success against Canton’s 1-3-1 defense in the first half, the Bulldogs elected to shake things up defensively, going with a 2-3 zone — a defense they hadn’t utilized all season.
Despite their inexperience in the set, the defense was very effective as North’s offense came to a screeching halt, managing just five points in the third. Meanwhile, those stops turned into buckets for the Bulldogs. Connerney scored on Canton’s first possession, Keefe got going with a triple, and Mischler added one from downtown as well. Burbank got a layup to fall and Canton’s 10-2 run to open the second half turned the game around.
“We haven’t practiced the 2-3 zone this season,” Gordy said. “Ladd’s a nightmare for us to match up with, Rosenberg, Poirier, and Kelley are all really good players. I didn’t think we could guard them man-to-man for an extended period of time. We had a lot of success with the 1-3-1 on Monday, they figured out some things tonight. They were getting to us on the glass so we went to the 2-3 to try and clean some things up on the rebounding which I thought helped big time in the game.
“It all flows, once you’re getting stops you can push in transition. Will Keefe got hot a little bit in the second half and a lot of those came from us getting stops, getting out, and not letting them set up in the half court.”
North Attleboro (5-2 Davenport, 5-2 overall) is back in action on Monday when it hosts Foxboro. Canton wraps up its season at 4-6 in the Davenport and 4-9 overall.
When the two teams met on Thursday night at the Metropolis Rink, the game had no bearing on either winning yet another league title and neither team was preparing for its typical postseason run. But, regardless of the circumstances, both teams skated a little faster and things were a little more intense because of who was on the opposite bench.
Five days ago, Franklin battled back to tie the game only for Canton to score a late winner. On Thursday, nothing could separate the two teams. Twice Franklin went in front and twice Canton found the tying goal. The teams skated to a 2-2 tie, with all four goals scored in the second period.
“We were on the phone for hours one night figuring out how to do this in a shortened season,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “I know the kids appreciated it immensely on both teams.
“That’s the best team we’ve faced all season and they’re one of the best teams in the state with their skill and their speed. A lot of our guys have never experienced this rivalry before at this level and I’m really proud of them for how they battled.”
Both teams flew out of the gates and the action was end-to-end. Even if the scoring chances were limited in quantity, there were high quality opportunities for both teams to break the deadlock.
“You’ve kind of got to bring yourself back down a little bit because everybody’s amped up tp play,” said Franklin coach Anthony Sarno.” Our guys have a ton of respect for those guys and those guys have a ton of respect for us, coaches included, and it’s just good hockey all-around.”
He added, “A season without Canton, wouldn’t have been a season.”
The Panthers had a good early chance with a quick breakout. Joe LeBlanc’s outlet pass from the defensive zone hit fellow defender Justin Abely, who redirected it to Dylan Marchand. Canton goalie Liam Polles (23 saves) made the first stop and then was able to get a block on Justin Magazu’s follow up chance on the rebound.
Eddie Gillis forced a pad save from Franklin netminder Gary Mandia (21 saves) with a deflected shot. Sam Carlino nearly created a great opening for Dylan Coyne right in front of goal, but the Franklin defense managed to get a block and then the loose puck slid away from the stick of Leo Owens at the post.
Magazu was able to open a lane for Domenic Lampasono, but Polles stayed strong and was able to stop the close-range chance.
“They’ve got a lot of quick forwards, lot of speed, so we were just trying to step up and play between the dots, take away the bodies and make them dump the puck in,” Sarno explained. “Neutral zone, we weren’t trying to play with it too much, short passes. In this rink, any turnover in the neutral zone and it’s a breakaway and if anyone can exploit that it’s Canton.”
It was a defensive-zone turnover that would lead to the opener. Just 90 seconds after the intermission, a reverse pass caromed off the end boards and right out in front to Aidan Hunt. Polles nearly made a great save. He was able to catch the one-time, but as he was scrambling across goal to get in position he was deep in the crease and he ended up on the wrong side of the goal line.
Momentum from the goal didn’t last long. It only took a minute for the Bulldogs to even things up. Sean Connolly’s shot from the point was parried by Mandia, who somehow saw the puck through the crowd in front. Franklin wasn’t able to clear the rebound, with Andrew Valkanas keeping it alive and getting it back to Connolly at the blue line. The second shot had eyes and snuck through traffic and into the back of the net.
Seconds after Mandia was able to deny Tommy Phaneuf what looked like a sure goal, the visitors regained the lead. Magazu raced down the left wing and flipped a pass across the slot to Marchand at the far circle and his one-timer gave Polles no chance, sneaking inside the post.
This time, the lead lasted seven minutes before Canton again found an equalizer. Valkanas created the chance by teeing up Jeffrey Chaput. Mandia made the blocker save but Valkanas was there for the rebound.
Things tightened up in the third period, as neither team wanted to take a big risk that could lead to a winning goal for their opponents. Mandia was forced into a good save on Phaneuf and Lampasona dug out the rebound, but Canton was noticeably tiring in its second game in as many days.
“We exerted so much energy in the first and second periods and in the third, credit to them, they were flying and still had their legs and we were hanging on,” said Shuman. “Classic Franklin/Canton game. Comes down to the third period and the last minutes and so happy we had a chance to experience it this year.”
Franklin still had its legs and created a couple of chances that could’ve won it. Magazu was a constant thorn in the Canton defense’s side and he somehow split a pair of defensemen at the blue line, drew a third, and laid a pass off to Lampasona, who missed the net from close range.
With five minutes to play, Marchand got free in the zone and fired a shot that Polles stopped at the near post. Marchand stayed with the rebound and set up Magazu right in front, but again the Canton goalie came through with a big save to preserve a point.
“They played hard this year,” Sarno said. “We didn’t know if we were going to have the season, then we were, then we weren’t. Hats off to the boys, they fought through some adversity.”
Canton (9-0-1), which remarkably has lost one game in the past three seasons combined, will close out its league campaign against Oliver Ames and Foxboro. Franklin (10-2-1), which has clinched at least a share of the Kelley-Rex title, closed out its season on Thursday.
The Warriors have been in plenty of tight games this season but whether it was overtime, an untimely turnover, or an unlikely offensive outburst from their opponent, Foxboro couldn’t find its way into the win column — until Thursday night.
Foxboro made all of the plays it needed to down the stretch, including a huge three-pointer from sophomore Ryan LeClair, to earn its first win of the season, 46-39, over visiting Canton.
“I think we were just more consistent on the small controllable things,” said Foxboro head coach Jon Gibbs. “Offensively, down the stretch, we were able to take care of the ball and keep our composure against pressure and we executed and got good shots. Earlier in the season, in late-game situations, we were having some untimely turnovers, and not only that, the other team would break out for a big momentum basket. We didn’t do that tonight, we were able to get quality shots and guys stepped up to make the big shots.”
Locked into another close game in the fourth quarter, the Warriors withstood pressure from a talented Canton team. Even after its four-point lead evaporated and momentum seemed to swing in favor of the Bulldogs, Foxboro didn’t panic.
The game was knotted at 29-29 after three quarters, setting up a winner-take-all fourth period. And for six minutes, it was a back-and-forth battle with each team matching the other, basket for basket, and stop for stop.
Junior Dylan Gordon, who scored a career-high 22 points, put the hosts ahead with a strong take to the rim, LeClair hit one from the line with just over three minutes to go, and sophomore Alex Penders scored his first basket of the game to give Foxboro a 37-33 lead with just under three minutes to go.
Canton took its turn to answer as senior Ryan Connerney (10 points) sliced through the defense to the rim for two and then found Steven Burbank (13 points) on a nice backdoor cut to tie the game as the clock ticked under two minutes to go.
But the Warriors refused to wilt under pressure and came back with an answer of their own. Halfway through the shot clock, LeClair found some separation after setting a screen and drained a deep straightaway three to make it 40-37 with 1:35 to play.
“He’s always been a really confident kid, and that’s one of his best attributes and that’s really important for a point guard,” Gibbs said. “Each passing game, we’ve really seen that confidence grow and with that, he’s improved more and more and grown into his role. He just continues to get better. We want him to take that shot in that moment, we all believe in him and I’m really happy for him that he stepped up and knocked it down.
Foxboro got a stop after Canton’s attempt at a tying three was just off the mark. This time, LeClair drove left past his defender which forced a pair of Bulldogs to help. The sophomore guard dumped a pass off to Sean O’Leary, who finished off a tough layup for a 42-37 advantage with less than a minute to go.
The Bulldogs kept it close when junior Lanse Dorcelus drove from the right wing into the paint and finished through contact. Down three, Canton elected to foul Gordon, who drained a pair from the line to ice the win for the Warriors.
“It’s a classic Canton-Foxboro game where every single basket is hard to come by,” said Canton head coach Ryan Gordy. “At the end of the game, it was tied late, they had kids that made more plays when it mattered. They made plays in winning time and we’re still learning how to do that.
“When we get hot, we get real hot and when we get cold, we get real cold. Tonight was one of the cold nights and credit to Foxboro, they played great defense. That’s a team that’s been working hard all season. I’m disappointed for us but congrats to them for getting their first win, they deserved to win tonight, we didn’t.”
LeClair might not have been in position for his big three and assist in the final minutes if it wasn’t for a big shot from junior Cam Barreira earlier in the game. Sophomore Sam Golub (six points, six rebounds) drained a three for Foxboro with 4:10 to go in the second quarter but the Warriors would go on a long drought before scoring again.
Canton rattled off a 10-0 run over the course of the next 8:41 of game time. Steven Burbank scored the last four points of the first half to give the Bulldogs an 18-17 lead at halftime. Connerney converted a traditional three-point play and Eric Mischler (11 points, five rebounds) drained a corner three off a nice feed from Connerney and the Bulldogs held a 24-17 lead with 3:44 left in the third.
Out of a timeout, Barreira came up with a huge shot. The inbounds found Penders, who was immediately double-teamed. The sophomore center alertly turned and dished to Barreira in the corner and the junior didn’t hesitate, sinking a three-pointer that lit a fire under the Warriors.
Barreira’s bucket sparked a 12-5 run that brought the hosts back into the game. Gordon scored six straight, sandwiching a pair of field goals around two from the line. And Golub hit his second three of the game to put Foxboro ahead 29-26. Canton’s Will Keefe answered with a triple in the final seconds to make it 29-29 going into the fourth.
Foxboro (1-6 Davenport, 1-6 overall) will travel to Canton (3-3, 3-6) for a rematch on Wednesday at 7:00.