CANTON, Mass. – Despite Canton dominating play in the third period and holding King Philip to just two shots in the final 15 minutes, the Warriors went into the final three minutes holding onto a one-goal lead. It would be a rare win for KP in the series, a rare win for any Hockomock League team against the Bulldogs, and a chance to take a big early step towards a second straight league title.
But, there is a reason that Canton went into Wednesday night’s game at the Metropolis Rink having won 36 straight league games. The Bulldogs scored a pair of goals in 1:39, completed a comeback after being down two goals twice in the game, and pulled out a dramatic 4-3 victory.
“It’s huge for our psyche,” Canton coach Brian Shuman said. “It’s good for our guys to see that they can come from two goals down. Hopefully they’re not in that position too often, but it’s still good to build that mental toughness.”
After the game, KP coach Paul Carlow rued the missed opportunity to grab a lead in the Kelley-Rex division, even if it is just three games into the league campaign.
“They pinned us in in the third,” he explained. “They outshot us and outplayed us in the third period. Instead of continuing to take it to them, it felt like we were more trying to hang on. That never works.”
It was all KP at the start of the game. The Warriors came out flying and needed only 27 seconds to pick up the opening goal. Shaun Fitzpatrick did good work down the right wing, driving at the net and drawing a couple of Canton defensemen. He flipped the puck out in front to Sean Crowther, who sent the puck through a crowd of legs across the crease where James Boldy was standing all alone to tap into the empty net.
Rather than being a wake up call for the home team, the goal seemed to spur the Warriors on for more. Fiztpatrick collected the puck against the right wing boards and turned towards goal. He had a free path right at Canton goalie Aiden French (18 saves) and stuffed the puck under the pads to make it 2-0 less than six minutes in.
Shuman said, “KP does a great job of getting pucks and bodies to the net and you saw that on the first goal. That’s their bread and butter and we struggled with that mightily tonight. We just weren’t tough enough out in front, we were puck watching, and losing guys. They play a tough brand of hockey.”
KP got a chance on the power play midway through the first and Max Robison forced French into a tough save on a shot from the point. Canton cleared the rebound. It was one of a couple chances that the Warriors had to try and extend the lead, but the Bulldogs held on and got the kill.
Only 13 seconds after getting back to even strength, Canton was on the board. AJ Thomas’ pressure on the forecheck caused a turnover in the attacking zone. His first shot from point-blank range was stopped by KP goalie Kyle Abbott (28 saves) but Thomas stuck with it and knocked in the rebound, cutting the lead in half.
The goal seemed to give Canton momentum, as the Bulldogs went into the locker room on the front foot, but it didn’t carry over to the second period. Only nine seconds elapsed before KP added a third. Boldy snapped off a wrsiter just as he was entering the zone on the left wing and French appeared to be unsighted as the puck flew under the bar on the stick side.
“We had some really good chances and then didn’t convert,” said Carlow. “Canton had the momentum off the kill and then I think they scored the very next shift and now it’s a one-goal game. We got a goal to start the second and I think we just kind of ran out of gas.”
Canton needed a spark. Sophomore Brendan Tourgee nearly had a quick response when he sailed into the zone, split a pair of defensemen and got off a backhand shot from a tight angle that Abbott kept out. Sam Carlino had a partial break for the Bulldogs but Robison hustled back to get a piece of the shot from the right face-off dot.
The Bulldogs were able to cut into the lead midway through the second. After a couple of shots from the point by Sean Connolly that Abbott pushed aside, they swung it across the blue line to Ryan Doucette. His shot was heading wide of the post but sophomore Brian Middleton was able to get a telling touch on it to sneak it past Abbott low at the near post.
“To get one there was big and that line of Middleton, (Patrick) Drury, and Blake continue to get it done and I think our other guys can learn a little bit from them because they’re having success and getting big goals just by getting to the tough, dirty areas,” said Shuman.
KP tried to hold on in the third, blocking shots and trying to keep the Bulldogs away from the crease. Eddie Gillis nearly set up Thomas for a tying goal, but Abbott stayed with the tip in front and kept it out. Tourgee then showed off his strength on the puck, holding off two defensemen to allow the Bulldogs to get back onside and then turning into the zone, forcing Abbott into a good save with his shoulder.
Connolly had another shot from the point that forced Abbott into a save. Tommy Phaneuf corralled the rebound in front but was pressured off the puck and couldn’t get a shot on target.
While the chances were piling up, the clock was winding down. Finally, with 2:42 to play. Tourgee found the back of the net. He dragged the puck through a stick check on the left wing boards and then angled towards goal. His backhand shot through the crease somehow snuck through a thicket of legs and found the far corner.
“He’s so gifted on the puck,” Shuman said of Tourgee. “He’s strong on the puck, he’s fast, he’s just got a nose for the net. I think he’s got to trust getting pucks to the net instead of always trying to pick those corners because you can see how offensively gifted he is.”
The pressure continued, as Canton outshot KP 13-3 in the final period. With 1:03 to go, the Bulldogs got the winner. Brennen Pecararo dropped a pass back to sophomore Colin Blake and he pounced on the chance in the slot, slamming the puck into the back of the net.
KP had one last look with the goalie pulled and less than 10 seconds on the clock, but Brad Guden’s shot from the point hit a body to the side of the post and ricocheted into the corner.
“We just got off to a tough start this year with injuries and illness,” Carlow said. “I think we had eight out sick the first week of the season, so we got off to a tough start and we’re just trying to get rolling.”
Canton (4-2-1) will be back home on Saturday afternoon to face Mansfield, which was the last team to hand the Bulldogs a league loss back in February 2017. King Philip (2-4-1) returns to Canton on Saturday night, this time at the IcePlex, to take on Archbishop Williams.