RAYNHAM, Mass. – For the fourth straight year, Canton found itself in the final of the annual Joseph I. Quinn Memorial Tournament at the Raynham IcePlex, but the Bulldogs also found themselves down a goal to the host team, Coyle & Cassidy, heading into the third period.
Junior forward Ryan Nolte scored 21 seconds into the third to tie the game and then he popped up with just 54 seconds left on the clock with the tournament-winning goal, handing Canton a 3-2 win, its third Quinn Tournament title in the last four seasons, and a chance at the top seed in Div. 2 South.
“It was a good comeback,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “It was a great third period. We responded well in the third and I’m proud of the guys for that.”
The Bulldogs got off to a perfect start to the game. Nick Allen’s shot from the blue line was kicked aside but right to the stick of forward Timmy Kelleher. The sophomore knocked in the rebound for a 1-0 lead just 34 seconds into the game.
While Canton got the early strike, Coyle did not allow the Bulldogs to control the game, quickly regaining the momentum in what turned out to be an evenly played period that did not feature many clear-cut scoring chances.
“We were talking about learning our lessons from past games,” said Shuman. “We went up early and I think we took our foot off the gas a little bit. We got fired up on the bench and we talk about good starts but you’ve got to have a good start and sustain it.”
Kevin Murphy and Jack Goyetch each had shots on target midway through the first, Murphy from the slot and then Goyetch following up the rebound, but both shots were turned aside. With 1:17 left in the first, Coyle finally connected on a long outlet pass, catching the Canton defensemen wide and pushed forward, and Drew Arpin made it count with a five-hole finish on goalie Quinn Gibbs.
Canton came out of the gates on fire in the second period, despite having to kill off an early penalty. Shorthanded, Nolte created havoc on the forecheck and forced a turnover that he nearly put away with a wraparound chance and then John Hagan was denied as he got to the rebound.
Five minutes into the second, with Canton clearly in control of play, the Bulldogs made a mistake trying to clear the puck out of the defensive zone. It hit Jacob Ducharme on the leg and he was able to step forward clean through on goal. His backhand effort slipped under Gibbs for a Coyle lead against the run of play.
“It doesn’t matter shots in the end, who had zone time, puck possession, all that matters is the scoreboard and after two we were down,” said Shuman. “We were panicking a little bit. We just said, this time of year, you can’t let one- or two-goal deficits get in your head. You just have to take it one goal at a time.”
Canton had plenty of chances to tie the game in the second, outshooting Coyle 15-2. Sophomore Chris Lavoie had a shot from the left circle tipped just past the top corner and into the netting and Nolte took a shot from the same spot on a 3-on-1 break that was comfortably saved. Despite dominating play in the period, the Bulldogs went into the third down by a goal.
Starting the third with a power play, the Bulldogs wasted no time in getting level. Hagan had the first chance on the edge of the crease but the puck was blocked right to Nolte at the far post and he roofed his close-range shot to make it 2-2 just 21 seconds into the third.
Shuman explained, “You saw there with the power play at the end of the second period, we had a 5-on-3, we were panicking and just throwing shots on net from bad angles and I think those guys showed some poise [in the third] and made a good shot.”
The game settled into a similar pattern with Coyle trying to sneak players behind the aggressive back line of the Bulldogs, but the defenseman continuing to make plays to keep the Warriors from getting off shots. Jack Connolly, Owen Lehane, Matt Casamento, Charlie Malloy, Brad Murphy, and Allen all made big plays to stop Coyle in the neutral zone or at least keep the Warriors from getting a clean look. Gibbs faced only three shots in the final 30 minutes of the game.
Malloy also had one of Canton’s best chances in the third with a blast from the point that was saved to the corner. Charlie O’Connor also had a couple of chances but multiple times hit the side of the net in the third. Allen had Canton’s best chance after he stepped up into the attack with Kelleher and Hagan, but his one-timer missed the net by inches.
Just seconds after Hagan saw a shot that looked destined for the top corner gloved to the back boards, Nolte again found himself in a battle on the edge of the crease and managed to find the back of the net with the go-ahead goal.
“It’s great when one of your most skilled players is also one of your best defensive players,” said Shuman of Nolte, who he praised for his all-around performance. “Ryan played great defensively this game and his goals just came from being in the middle of the ice. A lot of times, Ryan will make a move, deke, and beat guys but he also needs to score in those dirty areas and he had a couple today.”
It was the second time in the past three games that Canton had scored a game-winner in the final minute, a trait that could be the difference between a potential tournament run and an actual one.
Canton (15-2-4) will wait for the result of a coin toss to see if it ends up with the top seed in Div. 2 South.