By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
FRANKLIN, Mass. – Coming into Wednesday afternoon’s game with Medway at Pirelli Veterans Arena in Franklin, Canton knew that it would be facing an uphill battle to score against Mustangs goalie Mike Purnell, who is one of the top high school netminders in the state.
The Bulldogs also boast a strong defensive unit, one that had only allowed 11 goals in 11 games entering Wednesday, so this was poised to be a game where one opportunity could be decisive.
Canton thought it had the chance with eight minutes remaining in the second period. A misplaced Medway clearance was intercepted by Matt Lazaro and turned into a quick two on none break for the Bulldogs. Lazaro held the puck for an extra second before sending a pass across the crease to a wide open Jim Jenkins.
It seemed to everyone that Canton was about to take the lead, until Purnell, who had been hugging the post to deny Lazaro a shot, dove across the goal and denied Jenkins point-blank and at full stretch with his glove.
“The whole bench had their hands up and they thought it went in,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman after the game. “It was just a great save.”
“He had a 2 on 0 and I think that’s what great goalies do – they can sense when that pass is going across and he was leaning and made the stop. It was probably the save of the season.”
Just three minutes after Purnell (25 saves) made his remarkable stop, Medway jumped into the lead. A shot from the point was knocked down by a screened Justin Slocum (25 saves) and the rebound was batted in by Matt Narducci. It turned out to be the game-winner, as Medway added a second goal in the third period and skated away with a 2-0 win.
“He’s certainly rewriting the record books for us in Medway,” said Mustangs coach Chris Ross about Purnell. “He’s probably the top goaltender Medway has ever had. His mystique sort of started in the shootout last year against [Oliver Ames goalie Jimmy] Tierney and he’s played unbelievable.”
The Bulldogs were the team that came out flying to start the game. Canton held an 8-1 advantage in shots early in the opening period, but many of them came from the outside, including a few shots from junior defenseman Jackson Maffeo. None of the shots looked likely to beat Purnell.
As the period wore on Medway started to gain traction and created the two best chances of the frame. Narducci nearly opened the scoring with 8:35 left in the first but his wrister in transition clipped Slocum’s shoulder before skipping off the crossbar. Four minutes later, Andrew Diebus had a good look in the slot from a face-off win but Slocum gloved his hard shot.
“They were right in his face the entire game, knocking him down, and he got up and made some big saves,” said Shuman of Slocum. “He’s a very good goaltender and I know we’d love to have another crack at these guys.”
Canton again got off to a strong start to the second period with Maffeo stepping into a slap shot that bounced off the outside of the post. Jenkins and then senior Bobby Mullaney both had chances off a rebound four minutes into the period but Purnell was able to adjust and block both shots.
“Against him you’ve to get guys out front because very rarely do you beat him clean,” said Shuman. “All credit to them for matching our net front presence; very rarely did we outnumber them and they were able to clear away some pucks.”
Other than the turnover that led to Purnell’s amazing save, Medway bottled up the Canton forwards limiting them to shots from the outside and keeping bodies central to force the play out to the wings.
Ross explained, “We spent all week working on our forecheck and that was definitely our plan to stop their progress from their zone coming out. We felt with our goaltender and our defense we’d be able to take care of things in our zone, I was more worried about transitions.”
Trailing by a goal entering the third, Canton struggled to get into a rhythm and sustain pressure on Purnell and the Medway defense. An early pass went through the crease but Medway outshot the Bulldogs, who twice were forced to the penalty kill, 10-7 in the period.
With 7:15 remaining, Lazaro had Canton’s best chance to tie the game when he managed to squeeze past two defensemen and skate in on Purnell. He gave a head fake and then dragged the puck to the backhand getting the goalie to slide, but his shot to the back post slid wide.
Medway sealed the win with 2:05 left. James Anderson sprung Cole Fisher with a quick outlet pass and, despite the best efforts of Ryan Lodge to get back, he managed to hold off the defense and flick a shot just inside the post.
Shuman said, “That second goal was just a result of us trying to get a little too aggressive at the blue line. Both Jackson and C.J. [Martin] pinched and it left the middle wide open, but when you’re down 1-0 with a couple minutes left you have to take those chances.”
Canton (9-2-1, 6-0-0) will try to rebound on Saturday with a trip to Asiaf Arena to face Oliver Ames.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.