Lavoie Steals Point for Canton in Battle of State Champs

Canton boys hockey
Canton players celebrate in front of the student section after Chris Lavoie scored with just :10 remaining to salvage a tie against Duxbury and extend Canton’s unbeaten streak to 31 games. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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CANTON, Mass. – Even as dominant as Canton was on its run to a state title last year, there were a few close calls that nearly put an end to its unbeaten run, but nothing was as dramatic as Monday afternoon’s meeting with defending Div. 1 state champion Duxbury at the Ice House.

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The Bulldogs scored two times in the final 1:11 of the game, capped by Chris Lavoie’s blast from the point with just 10 seconds on the clock, to stun the Dragons and earn a remarkable 3-3 tie. The unlikely point extends the unbeaten run to 31 games (28-0-3) going back to last season’s opener.

“We had them right where we wanted them,” Canton coach Brian Shuman joked. “They’re a hell of a team, they’re well-coached, they’ve got some skill players, a lot of talent. I think we were a little bit tentative at times out there and to their credit they were all over us.

“We were a little jittery with the puck but in the end we were able to put the puck in the net twice in the last minute to salvage a point.”

As the clock wound down in the third period, the Bulldogs were watching their unbeaten run rapidly tick away, trailing by two goals and struggling to get pucks to the net. At the tail end of its fourth power play of the night, Canton started to show some urgency and life.

Johnny Hagan won a puck on the near boards and played it out to Declan Pfeffer at the point. The defenseman fired a puck towards net that was just missed by Shane Marshall at the post. Seconds later, Jack Connolly teed up Lavoie for a close-range shot that was denied by a quick left pad from Duxbury goalie Steve Pisani (22 saves).

With 1:11 to play, Canton put some life into the building. Tommy Vaughan and Lavoie chased down a puck behind the net. It was played to Marshall, who fired a no-look pass into the slot and, whether by intention or luck, right to the stick of Hagan. The senior forward flicked a shot just over the goalie’s shoulder to cut the lead to 3-2.

Canton goalie Joe Cammarata (18 saves) was on the bench watching as the Bulldogs threw on an extra attacker for an attacking zone face-off in the dying seconds. The puck was knocked back towards the point and white jerseys scrambled to get in front of Pisani. Lavoie took a touch and then let rip on a shot that snuck through the crowd on the edge of the crease and into the back of the net.

The Bulldogs chased after Lavoie, who raced to the other end of the ice to celebrate with the Canton student section.

“We just had to try and get guys to the front of the net and get shots through,” Shuman explained. “That was really it. Our defense had been jumping in the play more, finally, towards the end of the game. They stopped thinking about letting up plays and they went down and created some offense.”

It was a game of momentum twists, befitting a game between two championship-caliber teams. Duxbury got the first punch in, scoring inside the opening two minutes when a puck took a kind bounce off the end boards to Billy Mrowka on the post.

Despite giving up an early goal, Canton responded by controlling the bulk of the opening period, outshooting the Dragons 13-6. Colby Ciffolillo nearly created an immediate answer when he set up Vaughan in front but Pisani made the stop. Marshall also was stuffed on a chance right on the doorstep.

Lavoie came close to getting Canton on the board but couldn’t hit the target on his first chance and had his second effort saved. Duxbury almost doubled the lead on the break, but Connolly used every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to make a diving intervention.

The Canton pressure paid off with 1:39 left in the first. On the power play, Connolly lined up a shot from the point. Donny McNeice was parked in front of goal and got the telling tip to beat Pisani and tie the game.

Canton may have felt good going into the first intermission, but the Dragons started the second on a power play and grabbed control of the game. The Bulldogs were caught watching the puck and TJ Jones was able to pick out Will Nolan for the go-ahead score. Three minutes later, from a face-off, Friend Weiler got free in the slot and was able to beat Cammarata on the stick side.

Chances were suddenly few and far between for the Bulldogs. Ronan O’Mahony had a look from the left circle but was denied by Pisani and in the closing seconds of the period Hagan made a rush down the left wing and nearly snuck a shot in from a tight angle only to have it ring off the post.

Hagan had another rush early in the third, as a power play was expiring, beating his marker on the wing and getting to the crease only for Pisani to stay with the puck and stuff his backhand try. That would be Canton’s last good scoring opportunity for the next eight minutes, as Duxbury looked to be comfortably seeing out the win.

Shuman said, “It was so disappointing to come out in the third period and have the power play for a minute and have five guys that have played on the power play for three years for us come out and execute like they did at the start of the third period. They were just overthinking and I think they were getting down on themselves.”

The game turned around in the closing minutes, as the Bulldogs found their footing and found the attack that had been so potent during this streak.

“When you’re down two goals with two minutes left in the game,” Shuman said, “you stop thinking and you stop feeling sorry for yourself and I think they went out there and just tried to keep it simple and get shots on net and get guys to the net.”

Canton (3-0-2) will put the streak on the line again on New Year’s when they travel out-of-state to face Smithfield (R.I.).

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2019-2020 Hockomock Boys Hockey Preview

2019-2020 Hockomock Boys Hockey Preview
Canton’s Chris Lavoie tries to skate past Oliver Ames’ in the first period at Asiaf Arena in January 2019. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)

By HockomockSports.com Staff

2019-2020 Hockomock Boys Hockey Preview

Attleboro

2018-2019 Record: 10-10-2
2018-2019 Finish: Reached Div. 3 South Preliminary Round
Coach: Mark Homer

The Bombardiers will be looking to stretch their postseason streak to three years this season. It showed how deep the Kelley-Rex division was last year that the Bombardiers, who did not fare well in league games, made it to the state tournament.

One reason that Attleboro is hopeful for a spot in the state tournament is the addition of a couple of transfers to the program. Jake Ward joined the program and will apart of the Bombardiers top line alongside senior captain Ryan Morry and junior Aidan Diggin. Both Morry and Diggin have a plethora of experience at the varsity level so expect Attleboro’s top line to be a dangerous one in the offensive zone. Attleboro picked up some needed depth with the addition of junior Owen Dryjowicz and freshman Aidan Dryjowicz, who will join sophomore Nate Parker on the second line.

The third line could see some rotation but will mostly feature junior Austin Blais at the center spot, and senior Liam McDonough, junior Owen Graney, and senior Kyle Miniati on the wings. The Bombardiers will have some experience on the blue line with senior Sam Flynn and junior Zach Pierce holding down two of the top spots, with sophomore Sean Marshall also in the mix. The fourth spot between the top two defensive pairs is still up for grabs in the early going. Sophomores Nick Piazza and Michael Dutremble are battling for minutes in net.

“We hope to improve our record from last year through commitment and hard work collectively, and gain entry to the state tournament,” said Attleboro head coach Mark Homer.

Canton

2018-2019 Record: 25-0-1
2018-2019 Finish: D2 State Champions
Coach: Brian Shuman

Having won nine straight Davenport division titles, Canton is used to having a target on its back as the rest of the Hockomock League tries to knock the Bulldogs from the top. But this year, that target is even bigger than before.

Fresh off one of the best seasons in both program and league history that ended with a D2 State Championship, the Bulldogs will be getting everyone’s best game in and game out. And while Canton certainly graduated some key pieces, like two-time HockomockSports.com Player of the Year Ryan Nolte, the Bulldogs enter this season as not only the favorite for a 10th straight division crown but will certainly be in the mix when it comes to the 2020 D2 State title.

While replacing Nolte will be tough, the Bulldogs have several key forwards back from last year’s championship team. It will all start with senior Johnny Hagan, who was named HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year as a sophomore and racked up 51 points with 21 goals and 31 assists on the season. Hagan will have a lot of experience to work with in senior Timmy Kelleher (seven goals, seven assists last regular season), senior Tommy Ghostlaw (five goals, six assists), and senior Chris Lavoie (13 goals, 12 assists). Lavoie could be poised for a breakout year, scoring twice in the season-opening win over Franklin.

Canton also brings back top players along the blue line with Jack Connolly and HockomockSports.com Second Team selection Owen Lehane. Both seniors, Connolly and Lehane not only are among the best defensive players in the league but play a big part of the Canton offense with their shooting. Seniors Ronan O’Mahony and Declan Pfeffer are also experienced defensemen that will see increased roles this year. Canton turns to senior Joe Cammarata to start in between the pipes with junior Liam Polles impressing early on and could push for starting minutes.

“We have a lot of experience returning, but that’s true for a lot of teams across the state,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. If our preseason was any indication, there are a lot of outstanding, talented teams this year that improved greatly in the offseason. We will have our work cut out for us in the Hock and with a tough non-league schedule.”

Foxboro

2018-2019 Record: 12-7-3
2018-2019 Finish: Reached Div. 3 South First Round
Coach: Mark Cedorchuk

Foxboro built upon its 10-season win two years ago with its best season in program history last year, picking up 12 wins including one in the postseason. After posting back-to-back successful seasons, the Warriors are hoping that trend continues.

With a good amount of returners back this year, the Warriors will be in good position to compete in the Hockomock League and will be aiming to make a deeper run into the state tournament behind a beefed-up schedule. One strength for Foxboro this year will be its offense with its two top regular season point producers back in junior Kirk Leach (15 goals, 20 assists) and senior Ronnie MacLellan (14 goals, 20 assists). That duo provided the Warriors with a lot of its offense last season and will be one of the top returning duos this season. Senior Sebastian Ricketts brings a vast amount of experience to the offense while sophomore Jack Watts (10 goals, four assists) will be looking to build on an impressive freshman year. Brady Daly, Eoin Reager, Josh Bertuman, Ryan Jacobs and Ben Ricketts will provide needed depth offensively.

Defensively it all starts with senior goalie Espen Reager, the defending Hockomock League MVP back after a strong junior season between the pipes for the Warriors. Reager has the ability to keep his team in teams, and he showed last year that he can help steal a game like he did against Mansfield. In front of Reager, senior Kyle McGinnis is one of the more experienced defensemen in the league and will be the anchor of the blue line group for Foxboro. Freshman Alex Coviello has impressed early on and will be a key piece of the defense.

“Our strength on offense this season will be our depth and overall team speed,” said Foxboro head coach Mark Cedorchuk. “We have more depth on offense than we’ve ever had. We’re looking forward to this season, with a lot of depth up front, excellent team speed and a great goalie we feel we can compete with any team on our schedule.”

Franklin

2018-2019 Record: 12-10-4
2018-2019 Finish: Reached Div. 1 South Final
Coach: Anthony Sarno

A new chapter begins in Franklin boys hockey with Anthony Sarno taking over on the bench after longtime Panther coach Chris Spillane stepped down following last season. While the Panthers might have a bit of a new look, expectations are still high inside Pirelli for the defending Kelley-Rex champs.

Sarno is hoping that momentum will carry over from the Panthers’ impressive playoff run from a year ago when Franklin upset Mansfield in overtime and knocked off Catholic Memorial in the semifinals. But there won’t be any nights off for Franklin with a loaded schedule that features Malden Catholic, Pope Francis, and a loaded Mt. Hope tournament — and that’s just December.

“It will be a work in progress and we will look to develop a solid team chemistry with a relentless work ethic, staying true to consistency, and discipline in an environment where effort and attitude is paramount, and not up for discussion,” Sarno said.

Up front, the Panthers will be leaning on seniors Shane McCaffrey, Kevin O’Rielly, and Shea Hurley to lead the way. McCaffrey is the team’s top scorer returning from a year ago so it will be vital for new players to step up and contribute. Juniors Conor O’Neil and Declan Lovett are also going to be important pieces to the Panthers’ offense. Senior Ray Ivers returns between the pipes are stepping in last season and playing well. In front of Ivers, Franklin will have two of the best defensemen in the league with senior Tom Tasker, a HockomockSports.com First Team selection last year, and junior Joe LeBlanc, who had a breakout sophomore campaign.

King Philip

2018-2019 Record: 10-11-0
2018-2019 Finish: Missed postseason
Coach: Paul Carlow

After missing out on the state tournament in back-to-back seasons, the Warriors have a chance to end that drought in 2020 behind an experienced group of players after losing just five players to graduation.

Head coach Paul Carlow says this is the most experienced group he’s had at his disposal since taking over behind the Warriors’ bench in 2015. There are nine seniors back this year and eight juniors so King Philip certainly boasts a lot of depth, and players that have played plenty of minutes at the varsity level. It starts with senior captain Chris Daniels, senior assistant captain Joe Boselli, and senior assistant captain Jack Coulter. All three have skated plenty of minutes for Carlow over the past couple of years and will be relied upon for their leadership.

Daniels is a crafty forward that scored five goals and had six assists while Coulter is the top returning scorer back this year after scoring six goals and recording nine assists a year ago. Seniors Bryan Lucente and Noah Ray will also be in the mix offensively alongside Daniels, Coulter, and Boselli. The Warriors will also rely on a handful of juniors to chip in offensively including forward Conor Cooke. Cooke had a terrific season with 10 goals and four assists and could be poised for a breakout year.

Defensively, there is a lot of veterans along the blue line for King Philip. Seniors Kyle Gray and Ethan McGuire are joined by junior Rocco Bianculli, a Hockomock League All Star and a HocomockSports.com All Underclassman selection a year ago. Gray is a three-year player that provides physicality while Bianculli is one of the top scoring defensemen in the entire league, scoring seven goals and adding seven assists during his sophomore season. Seniors Nate Ihley and Jesper Makudera will battle for minutes in net.

“I’m really looking forward to this season,” Carlow said. “On top of the seniors and juniors, we also have a strong sophomore class competing for spots. We have speed up front, we’re strong on the back end, and we have two good goalies. I’m looking forward to working with this group and fully expect them to make the tournament.”

Mansfield

2018-2019 Record: 14-6-3
2018-2019 Finish: Reached Div. 1 South First Round
Coach: Mike Balzarini

Mansfield head coach Mike Balzarini was a little concerned about his team’s depth coming into the season after graduating nine players and losing two top players to prep school. But after tryouts and a strong preseason, Balzarini believes this year’s squad will be just as deep as last year’ 14-win squad.

Losing a talented senior class hurts, and with Matt Copponi (eight goals, 28 assists, 2019 HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year) and Brian Grant (HockomockSports.com All Underclassmen Team) off to prep schools, the Hornets will need new faces to step up and contribute on both ends of the ice. But Balzarini and the Hornets have something that none of the other Hockomock teams have and that’s senior goalie Sean McCafferty. Now in his fourth year starting, McCafferty is a game-changer. Even if the Hornets aren’t having their best games, they’ll still likely have a chance to win because of McCafferty.

In front of McCafferty, the Hornets will turn to senior Joseph Troiano to anchor the defensive unit. He will be joined by Jack Gormley and Conor Benoit, both of whom picked up valuable minutes last season and should help Mansfield be one of the stingiest defensive groups. Offensively, the Hornets do get a boost with the return of senior forward Chris Jenkins. Jenkins was named to the HockomockSports.com All Underclassmen Team in 2017 after he had 11 goals and 10 assists as a freshman. He will join veterans Jake Lund and Kevin Belanger to form a talented first line for the Hornets. Cam Paige, Liam Anastasia, and Ben Ierardo will team up on Mansfield’s second line.

“We have a little bit of a sour taste after how last year ended,” Balzarini said. “We want to get over that hurdle of the first round of the playoffs. This group really plays well together, they play as a team. They’ve gelled nicely since the first day of tryouts.”

North Attleboro

2018-2019 Record: 11-9-2
2018-2019 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South Quarterfinals
Coach: Ben McManama

North Attleboro will be leaning on its defense in order to get back to the tournament again this season. With the defending state champs in Canton as well as an improved Foxboro squad, the Rocketeers have their hands full with a difficult three-team Davenport division.

Seniors Jake McNeany, Will Yeomans, Jeff Baker, and junior Charlie Connolly are all back this season to give North Attleboro a veteran defensive group. With a handful of experienced players leading the way defensively, it should make the transition from four-year starting goalie Ryan Warren a bit smoother. Another reason that transition should go smoothly is senior goalie Nick Digiacomo, who has been impressive in the preseason so far this year.

Senior Dennis Morehouse is back after a breakout junior campaign and will be in the mix as one of the top players in the Hockomock League this season. Morehouse was second on the team in points last year with 15 goals and four assists and is the top returning scorer back for the Rocketeers. Senior Jack Connolly is another experienced forward that will be a key piece of the offense while junior Tyler Sarro will look to build upon a solid sophomore season.

“For us to be successful, we need to be discipline and get scoring from our second and third lines,” said North Attleboro coach Ben McManama. “We are not as big as we were in years past so we need to play tough and physical.”

Oliver Ames

2018-2019 Record: 14-9-1
2018-2019 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South Quarterfinal
Coach: Mike Zucarelli

There is a new face at the helm of the Tigers this season, but its a familiar one. Mike Zucarelli takes over after serving as an assistant coach and is optimistic about the upcoming season.

Replacing one of the league’s top forwards in Brett Williams won’t be easy, but the Tigers boast experienced returners at every position on the ice. Senior Owen Connor is back for his third year in between the pipes. He took a big jump from his sophomore to junior year and that Zucarelli expects that trend to continue for the 2019-2020 season. In front of Connor, OA returns senior defensemen Ryan Gottwald and Matt Nosalek. Gottwald, one of the team’s two captains, had an impressive junior year and will be the leader of the defensive group this season.

Offensively, there will be some familiar faces including senior captain Hunter Costello. Costello, who scored nine goals and had 15 assists in the regular season a year ago, is joined by fellow returners Jake Gottwald, Duncan Pereira, and Brad Powers. All four of those seniors will be vital in the attack while juniors Ross Carroll and Matt Nigro should see expanded roles this year.

“We are going to be a gritty, hardworking team this year,” Zucarelli said, citing a preseason scrimmage with Milton. “We held our own during the first as Milton took it to us. We came out flying in the second, tied up the game and took the momentum into the third period with a huge penalty kill. The overall play of the team after one week was great to see.”

Taunton

2018-2019 Record: 8-12-1
2018-2019 Finish: Missed playoffs
Coach: Kris Metea

The Tigers enter the season with a relatively young squad but the goal is to integrate all of the youth with the returners and make a push for the state tournament by the end of the season.

Junior Mike Albert will be the main guy on the offensive end. Albert, who scored 10 goals and added 19 assists last season, was the leading scorer for the Tigers as a sophomore and is looking to take the next step this year. Junior Steve Roderick and sophomores Jack DeMoura and Michael Lucier are all new to the program and should be in the mix right away to help bolster the Taunton attack.

Head coach Kris Metea is also counting on some of the younger players to have breakout seasons, including sophomores Nathan Fernandes, Loren Corcoran, and Evan Perreira. On the defensive side, junior Brady Nichols will anchor the blue line unit. Although just a junior, Nichols has a wealth of varsity experience and the Tigers will lean on him to guide a young defensive core. Senior Andrew Gomes and junior Sean Bunker will battle for minutes in net.

“We have a group of young players that we will look to continue to develop over the course of the season,” Metea said. “The key to our success will be the meshing of the new players with the development of young players. The sky’s the limit for this group with continued commitment.”

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.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

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.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

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.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.