With Saturday afternoon’s game at the Foxboro Sports Center tied at 2-2 early in the third period, Franklin senior Noah Nasuti turned at the blue line and flung a puck on net. It landed a few feet from goal and bounced on its edge and slid past Mansfield senior goalie Tony Rullo, who finished with 28 saves and had a strong overall game to keep the Hornets in it.
That bounce allowed the Panthers, who seemed nervous at times in the attacking zone, to breathe a little easier. Two late goals, one on the power play and the other into an empty net, sealed a 5-2 victory for Franklin and put an end to a two-game losing streak.
“I know out third goal won’t be making the ‘Top 10’ on Sportscenter, but it was big for us,” said Franklin coach Chris Spillane. “It gave us a little breathing room and we weren’t gripping the sticks so tight and we got into a flow.”
Everyone came into Saturday’s game thinking that Franklin was going to come out flying, motivated by last weekend’s state final rematch loss to St. Mary’s (Lynn) and the shocking loss to Taunton in midweek, which was the first loss for the Panthers in the league since the 2013-14 season. Franklin had not lost twice in the Hock since 2012-13.
Rather than Franklin asserting itself in the first, it was Mansfield that came out stronger and took the lead inside the first five minutes. James Bezeau fed a pass from the half-boards into the middle to a streaking Cullin Anastasia, who had a step on his defender and then slotted his shot five-hole for the opener.
“Everybody’s first shift, we wanted them to make good plays, get the first shot on net, make the first hit, and have them make the first save,” said first-year Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini. “We put in a good 15 minutes of hockey in the first period.”
Franklin had several chances in the first period to try and get the game on level terms. Nasuti had a good chance knocked down by Rullo, Luke Downie had a wrist shot from the left circle snagged and in the final minute Brendan O’Rielly had a one-timer from the slot saved by Rullo as well.
Despite a 9-8 advantage in shots, Spillane was not happy with the way the Panthers started the game. He said, “I expected us to come out in that first period and just explode and we didn’t do that. We have a lot of work in front of us. We haven’t played a full game…It’s hard to figure these guys out.”
The Panthers picked up the energy in the second period and started to control the play. Downie created a scoring opportunity on the forecheck but shot it into the chest of Rullo. Downie set up James Kilroe for a point-blank chance a couple minutes later but the shot was partially blocked and covered.
Mansfield almost doubled its lead against the run of play when Patrick McCafferty got behind the Franklin defense but his backhand effort was kept out by a combination of Owen Ginley’s shoulder and the post. Rullo then came through with a huge stop, going post-to-post and stretching out a pad to rob Adam Assad after a give-and-go with Jeremy Miller.
The pressure eventually paid off for Franklin with freshman defenseman Colin Oppelt having a shot from the point tipped by Kilroe and the rebound cleaned up by O’Rielly to tie the game. Just 10 seconds later and it was the Panthers in front after Dan Magazu sliding a shot under Rullo’s pads, assisted by Kenny DeMerchant and Jack McGrath.
“[Dan] is a sophomore we don’t play much, but he scores a goal every time we put him out there,” said Spillane. That’s his third goal, so putting players out there like that lets the upperclassmen know their jobs are not secure.”
A minute later, Mansfield tied the score again. After a scramble in front of Ginley, freshman Chris Jenkins got the final touch (Cullen Murphy was credited on the score sheet) to make it 2-2, despite the Hornets being outshot 12-7 in the period.
“The issue in the second period was that we played their game; we didn’t play our game,” said Balazarini. “We were flooding the neutral zone, taking away their D-to-D pass, and then we kind of strayed away from that.”
Franklin got the break it needed 2:24 into the third period, when Nasuti saw his shot find the back of the net.
“It’s tough,” Balzarini said. “They were getting pucks to the net from everywhere. They did a good job at that. It is what it is. That’s hockey. But we didn’t stop and we had some good chances.”
The Panthers were on top on the scoreboard and on the ice, but Mansfield had its chances to get back into the game. Matt Farragher twice in the span of a minute came flying down the right wing and had a shot from the edge of the circle but Ginley (22 saves) was able to glove one and stand tall to stop the other.
Franklin doubled its lead on the power play with 2:09 remaining. Assad pushed the puck to Miller behind the goal and dashed to the net. Miller passed it back out in front and Assad roofed it for a 4-2 lead. O’Rielly made sure of the two points with an empty net goal (his second) in the final minute.
“I like the way we competed in the second and third periods,” said Spillane. “Our forecheck really came to life, our speed jumped out, and the goals came, but that should be consistent every game, every shift.”
After a trying week, Spillane was happy to see the Panthers bounce off their uncustomary position at the bottom of the league standings. He said, “I think we’re going to see this every game in the Hockomock League. Once the message was sent that they’re beatable. we’re going to get everyone’s ‘A’ game. There’s no gimmes, at least not for us.”
While the Panthers came away a 2-1 non-league win over the Bulldogs, Spillane has a handful of experienced forwards that were only able to register 15 shots in the game.
For Shuman, his Bulldogs created plenty of scoring chances, putting 23 shots on net but an inexperienced offensive unit was only able to convert once.
The bright side for both teams is that it’s just the first week and both Spillane and Shuman expect their respective teams – and one another’s – to improve in the coming weeks.
“We had it in little bits and spurts but nothing sustained at all,” Spillane said. “That was not one of our better hockey games, from the back end to the front end. I think we had only like 13 shots total which is insane for us. We have most of our returning offensive players back, we should be scoring four goals a game. It just wasn’t offensive game, nor a good defense game.”
Franklin scored the game-winning goal less than a minute into the final period. The Panthers started the final period tied 1-1 and on the penalty kill, but junior Brendan O’Rielly powered through into a breakaway, forcing a tripping penalty by Canton.
“We got ourselves in trouble sometimes,” Shuman said. “A little bit too much angst and energy, especially there in the third period. We didn’t know the clock and we had a guy pinch and cause on four on one – just didn’t make smart decisions. I think the guys were just too amped up at times and there were some unfortunate penalties. But overall, we had our chances. We made maybe a few mistakes and they capitalized but we had a boatload of chances and I know their goalie was looking back several times we just couldn’t tap it in.”
After playing four on four for a short time, Franklin went on the power play. O’Rielly had his wrist shot ring off the post but the puck eventually found its way to the blue line. Junior Jack McGrath ripped a shot through traffic and found the back of the net to put the Panthers up 2-1.
“We’ll take that. In games like that, you’ll take any goals you can get,” Spillane said. “That was a nice shot from Jack McGrath. But overall we missed the net a lot. We hit the glass, we were shooting right into players. Their one goal we shot it right into the guy blocking the shot – beautiful job by him but you have to have some hockey awareness and find the lanes.”
It was a back and forth opening period with neither side grabbing the majority of play. Franklin had the pressure early on but couldn’t sustain any attacking zone time. Canton picked up the play in the second half of the period, with Tommy Kilduff forcing a turnover and finding Joe Robinson but Franklin goalie Cam Benham (22 saves) made the kick save.
The Bulldogs kept the pressure up as two minutes later, Bubba McNeice carried possession into the attacking zone but his shot whistled wide. With a power play for the final 1:22 of the period, the Bulldogs nearly cashed in but McNeice’s shot through traffic was pushed aside.
Canton had to overcome an early penalty in the second period but the Bulldogs were able to carry over some momentum from the end of the first. Junior Matt Casamento blocked a Franklin shot at the blue line and raced his way past the defense. He went in alone on goal and potted his wrist shot in with 12:30 to play in the second to put Canton up 1-0.
“Matt Casamento was like a ninth defensemen for us last year and we moved him up to forward this year and he’s probably been one of the most pleasant surprises of the preseason and he played a hell of a game in his first varsity action,” Shuman said.
“We need guys like that to step up. We had guys in the top six that got a lot of playing time tonight that didn’t have as many chances as some of the guys that had just a few opportunities. We really have to figure some things out and get the guys in there that earned some more time.”
Canton couldn’t tack onto its lead even with power plays with 7:38 to play and again with 4:48 to go in the second period. The second power play was cut short for a holding call on the Bulldogs.
Franklin nearly tied the game when Colin Oppelt tossed a shot and Joey Blasie had a chance on the rebound but his shot slid just wide. Benham kept Canton from doubling its lead with an impressive kick save on a shot through traffic from Michael Pigeon.
The Panthers cashed in 30 seconds later when Matt Crane unleashed a shot from the blue line and the rebound fell to O’Rielly for the tap in with 1:15 to go in the period.
Canton, on another power play, had a chance in the final seconds but freshman John Hagan saw his shot clank off the crossbar and stay out.
“I thought Canton played very well, they had a good jump in their step and I think they just had the yips, they missed about three or four open nets,” Spillane admitted. “If they convert there, we would have been down. Even on the last shift they had a lot of opportunities. It’s early in the season, I know both teams will get better as the season goes on we just need to make some big steps.”
“It’s just the first game though. Franklin had a lot of guys back, a lot of guys with experience from a state championship team,” Shuman said. “We had a lot of guys in our locker room playing their first varsity game, let alone their first game against Franklin. It was a good game, good hockey game with a lot of chances. We just have to move on and get ready for Westwood.”
Canton (0-1) will try to earn its first win when they play Westwood at the Canton Ice House.
“Two wins is what you want,” Spillane said. “We have a tough stretch coming up with Pope Francis on Thursday, Newburyport on Friday and then we go to Mount – so we have five games against really good teams. So we need to get better fast if we want to compete in those games.”