Relentless Bulldogs Put Six Past Norwood in Semifinal

Canton boys hockey Ryan Nolte
Canton senior Ryan Nolte attacks the goal against Norwood in the D2 South Semifinal. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BOURNE, Mass. – The game was scoreless for 12 minutes when Canton senior center Ryan Nolte won a face-off to the right of Norwood goalie Austin Reardon. Nolte kept possession of the puck, dragging it through the legs of a Mustangs defenseman, brought it back to his forehand and then roofed his shot from a tight angle.

It was a stellar opening goal for the unbeaten Bulldogs, eased some nerves for the top seed, and opened the floodgates for Canton in Tuesday’s Div. 2 South semifinal. Once the Bulldogs got their noses in front, they were relentless, scoring four times in the second period and rolling to a dominant 6-1 victory over the No. 5 seed.

“It was definitely huge,” Nolte said about getting in front. “Sophomore year was my first time really playing down here and we didn’t get any (1-0 overtime loss to Medway) and then last year we had the tough 3-0 start (against Plymouth South), so it was good to play with a lead throughout the game and just maintain it and putting some goals in.”

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Canton got off a to a great start and looked dangerous every time that it got into the attacking zone. Timmy Kelleher created the first good chance with a big hit behind the net to win back possession and he fed it out in front for Johnny Hagan, whose shot caught a piece of Reardon’s blocker and then the post.

Norwood nearly took advantage of a turnover to score the opener, but was denied by a hustling back-check from Tommy Ghostlaw. The Bulldogs then got a chance in front when Tommy Vaughan angled in from the near boards and picked out Colby Ciffolillo, but Reardon again made the stop.

Finally, with 2:55 left in the first, Canton’s pressure paid off with Nolte stepping up and going bar down on a wrister to put the Bulldogs in front.

“The plan was just get more pucks and bodies to the net,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “We’ve been through some crazy games down here and a lot of times those crazy games start off with letting up goals early. I think if you can get up early down here and get up early this time of the year, it’s always a big step in the right direction.”

The Bulldogs had to clear off two penalties, including one that stretched into the second, but going on the penalty kill hardly slowed their momentum. Chris Lavoie had a chance from the slot that Reardon spilled but managed to recover in time to deny Ghostlaw on the rebound.

A little more than two minutes later, Lavoie got on the board to double Canton’s lead. The play was made by Shane Marshall, who managed to block a clearance at the blue line under pressure, got enough space to get his head up and flicked a pass to Lavoie in the high slot. The junior went blocker side to make it 2-0.

Canton added a third a minute later when Nolte held off a check behind the net and saucered a pass to Hagan right in front and the junior didn’t miss from close-range. The duo combined for the fourth goal of the night as well. Hagan ripped a wrist shot off Nolte’s face-off win. The puck trickled behind Reardon and Nolte reacted first to prod it over the line for a shorthanded goal.

“We’ve been playing together forever, so we know where we are on the ice at all times,” Nolte said about playing on the same line with Hagan. “It’s just good to know that if I throw one in front he’s going to be there to put it home and vice versa. It’s fun and hopefully we can keep it going for a few more games.”

On the same power play, Norwood got one back. Mike Staffiere made the first two stops but the puck slid off to his left and, with the goalie prone in the crease, Chris Martin was in the right place to tap it home. Any momentum for the Mustangs lasted less than two minutes. Owen Lehane lined up a wrister from the blue line that snuck through traffic and, with the help of a deflection off a Norwood player in front, snuck inside the post to make it 5-1.

“We have a good mindset after scoring a goal to not let up and going right back out after a goal. no matter what the score is, and keep the pressure on,” said Nolte. “I thought we did a good job of it tonight.”

Reardon needed to be at his best to keep it a four-goal game early in the third, as Hagan set up Kelleher at the back post only for the goalie to get a toe across. With 8:32 to go, freshman Eamon Kelly burst through the middle of the Norwood zone, split a pair of defenders and the lifted a backhand shot stick side to get Canton’s sixth.

Nolte had a chance at his hat trick after a pinpoint three-line pass from defenseman Declan Pfeffer, but he couldn’t get his shot over Reardon’s glove. Undeterred, Nolte then popped up in his defensive zone, chasing back when the Mustangs got a three-on-one and getting a poke check in to deny a scoring chance.

“He played well in all three zones,” Shuman said of Nolte. “Not many players can be that good defensively, that good in the neutral zone, and that good in the offensive zone, and kill penalties the way he does. It’s a testament to his skill but to how smart of a player he is too.”

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While the offense will get the headlines, the Canton defensive corps had another impressive performance. The Bulldogs have allowed only 21 goals in 24 games this season and the top two pairings of Jack Connolly and Ronan O’Mahony and Matt Martin and Lehane, held Norwood to only 12 shots through the first two periods and kept the front of the net largely clear for Staffiere (20 saves).

“I’m really happy with all four lines playing well tonight, played big minutes and played regular shifts, which I think was big for us tonight,” said Shuman. “It was really a team win. It’s not a cliche, it really was a team win. I thought all the guys played well tonight.”

After three straight losses at the semifinal stage, Canton boys hockey (23-0-1) is back to its first South final since 2015 and will face No. 2 seed Westwood (the same team that they faced in the 2015 final and the team that shares a home with the Bulldogs at the Canton Ice House), after the Wolverines beat Medfield 3-2 in the first semifinal of the night.

Hagan Caps Comeback for Canton at Franklin

Canton boys hockey
Canton junior Johnny Hagan scored with 1:29 left in the third period to seal a come from behind victory for the Bulldogs. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – After Canton stormed back from two goals down in the opening two minutes of the third period and with both teams create chance after chance in a fast-paced, end-to-end finish, both teams could have been forgiven for feeling content with going home from Wednesday night’s game at the Pirelli Veterans Arena with a hard-fought point apiece.

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But there was one more twist in this rivalry tale, as a Franklin defensive clearance ricocheted off the skate of the ref and fell right to Canton junior Johnny Hagan. The forward stepped in and ripped a one-timer over the blocker side of Franklin goalie Ryan Cameron to seal a dramatic 3-2 win for the unbeaten Bulldogs.

“The kid’s got a 101-degree temperature but he wasn’t missing this one,” Canton coach Brian Shuman said of Hagan. “He just grinded it out, he didn’t want to come off the ice, and that’s just typical Johnny Hagan. He’s the fiercest competitor I’ve ever coached.”

Franklin coach Chris Spillane was understandably frustrated to watch his team let a two-goal lead slip only two minutes after the second intermission.

“We had some jump in our legs but in the third period we just made poor defensive zone decisions,” he explained. “Turning pucks over, guys unattended in front of the net, and their offensive zone face-off where they drop the puck off to the winger killed us all night. We knew they were going to do it…and we had a play to defend it, but our kids just couldn’t execute.”

The Panthers tried to set a physical tone from the opening face-off and were flying around, chasing pucks into the corners, and creating scoring chances. It took seven minutes for the hosts to grab an advantage. Zac Falvey raced into the zone and when he got to the edge of the right face-off circle fired a shot through the legs of the retreating defenseman that beat Canton goalie Mike Staffiere (26 saves).

Falvey nearly added a second goal in the final minute of the first when he got a shorthanded breakaway, but he put his shot just wide of the post.

Canton had several great chances to even the score in the second period. Colby Ciffolillo had time and space in the slot, but his shot was smothered by Cameron (30 saves). Ciffolillo then set up Declan Pfeffer right in front but his deflection was knocked down by Cameron and covered. The Bulldogs got a power play chance and Ryan Nolte had a good look off the first face-off but his backhand shot was saved.

After nearly scoring on a shorthanded break in the first period, Franklin doubled its lead by finishing one in the second. Scott Elliott collected a loose puck at the blue line and raced past the Canton defense before firing an unstoppable shot past Staffiere to make it 2-0.

The chances kept coming for the Bulldogs with Owen Lehane flicking a shot through traffic that beat Cameron but not the crossbar and then the Franklin goalie again came up with a big save to deny a wide open Matt Martin, who was set up by a cross-ice pass from Chris Lavoie.

Coming out of the break, Canton jumped all over the Panthers. Timmy Kelleher struck the bar just seconds after the period started and then Tommy Ghostlaw had his rebound effort saved by a sprawling Cameron.

Nolte skated the ensuing face-off down to the red line before picking out Jack Connolly all alone at the point. The defenseman lined up a shot that went through a mass of bodies in front and found the back of the net just 36 seconds into the third.

Less than two minutes later, the game was tied. Ghostlaw didn’t miss this chance on the rebound, lifting his close-range shot over the shoulder of Cameron to make it 2-2.

“We just had to keep going,” Shuman said about the conversation after the second period. “We talked about we had chances and we just need to bury one. As it turned out we buried two…In the second period I felt they were trying to score two goals with one shot and I just said lets get one and see what happens.”

After the Bulldogs had the first seven shots of the period, Franklin got back into the game and had chances of its own. Dan Magazu had a one-timer kicked aside by Staffiere, who was also forced into good stops on Kyle Hedvig from the left dot and Declan Lovett from the point. The Panthers had another breakaway midway through the period but Staffiere read Shane McCaffery’s move and got his right pad to the post.

“We had plenty of chances,” Spillane said. “We had a breakaway, we had some rebounds that were sitting there with open nets but we just couldn’t fight through their stick checks. It’s a tough loss but we played hard for a good portion.”

Canton nearly got a winner when Kelleher got behind the Franklin defense, but the combination of Cam Cassella and a diving poke from Cameron kept the puck out. The Bulldogs did get a power play from the chance and on the ensuing face-off Hagan got free in the slot and struck the post.

Hagan didn’t miss on his next chance, putting the Bulldogs ahead for the first time with a rocket into the corner. The Panthers managed one last chance in the final seconds, but Tom Tasker’s shot went over the bar and Canton skated away with two more points and a grip on a potential ninth straight league title.

Despite the perfect start through a dozen games, Shuman is taking nothing for granted. He said, “It hasn’t been easy. It’s not like we’ve been blowing anybody out. We just have to keep grinding, taking them one game at a time because there’s plenty of games left and I’ve been around long enough to know you never win anything in January.”

Canton (12-0, 7-0) can wrap up another Davenport title on Sunday afternoon when it travels to second place North Attleboro. A point will be enough to clinch the title outright. Franklin (5-5-4, 4-1-2) has slipped a point behind Mansfield in the league standings heading into a trip to King Philip on Saturday.

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