CANTON, Mass. – One of the main reasons for Canton’s run to last year’s Div. 2 state title game at the TD Garden was a stingy defense and the play of goalie Colleen Kelleher. That formula seems to be working again this winter and was on full display against King Philip on Wednesday afternoon in the Bulldogs’ first game at the Canton Ice House and their debut in the newly formed Hockomock League for girls’ hockey.
Behind a second period goal from freshman Lizzie Tassinari and 15 saves from Kelleher, Canton earned a 1-0 shutout and started its new league campaign with a hard-fought two points.
“They did a really nice job,” said Canton coach Dennis Aldrich of the KP effort. “They took us out of some of our seam passes and we had to make a couple adjustments. Not pretty, but I like to think that good teams win those games and it’s important to come out on top.”
Canton nearly jumped out to the perfect start when Lauren Fitzpatrick raced down the right wing a minute into the game and forced a kick save out of KP goalie Lilly Potts, one of 19 stops for the junior.
The first period was fast-paced and end-to-end, but both defenses were tipping and blocking a number of shots, limiting the teams to a combined eight shots on goal. KP had two of the best chances with Meghan Gorman forcing a save out of Kelleher from the right circle and, with just 10 seconds left on the clock, Nicole Connor had a close-range backhand blocked aside.
Fitzpatrick had the first chance of the second period as well, but just 20 seconds later it appeared as though KP may have taken the lead. Kyleigh Remmes had her first shot saved but followed the rebound and beat Kelleher with a backhand that the junior thought had found the back of the net. As Remmes put her hands up to celebrate, the officials held their whistles and play continued.
Gorman had a shot from the point knocked down by Kelleher, who then shuffled over to stop Remmes on the rebound. Leah McClellan had a shot for Canton from the blue line but Potts stayed down on the bounce to save it.
With only 31 seconds left in the period, Canton broke the deadlock. McClellan picked up the puck in defense and sped forward into the attacking zone. She crossed the puck from the left boards to Maggie Malloy in the slot, but it was deflected into the crease. After a scramble in front, Tassinari managed to squeeze the puck through the crowd and past Potts.
“It was a game of very few mistakes and they just took advantage of one little one,” said KP coach Jack Unger. “An opportunistic rebound, the coverage was there but the girl was still able to get ahold of it and put it in.”
Not only was it important for the Bulldogs to jump into the lead but the timing of the goal provided a shift in momentum heading into the third.
“When I first came in the locker room before the third period, I said you have no idea how huge that was,” Aldrich explained. “If they can go through two periods in our barn and come out with 15 minutes to go tied that’s a big difference. Now they have a little mountain to climb.”
Of McClellan, who spent most of the game carrying the puck out of defense and providing Canton with a forward rush, Aldrich said, “She’s a special kind of player and she’s someone that can be hard to play with because you can’t really contain her; you have to let the stallion run.”
Canton started the third on fire, recording the first five shots of the period and forcing Potts to come through with several difficult saves to keep the Warriors just a goal down.
Ellie Rae Roberts had the first chance with a backhander from the edge of the crease and Katie Holleran followed with a chance from the slot, but Potts saved both. With nine minutes to play, Potts again made the save to stop a Fitzpatrick breakaway and then denied McClellan on another long rush.
“She definitely kept us in the game,” said Unger of Potts. “She had an outstanding performance. They came on a little strong in the third period, but it was nice to hold them off and get a few chances of our own.”
In the final five minutes, KP flipped the momentum and started to press in search of a tying goal. In one sequence Gorman found Olivia McCarthy who then fed it on to Remmes for a great chance from the slot but Kelleher got a piece and the rebound trickled wide of the post.
Thirty seconds later, Kelleher made an even better stop to deny Gorman when a shot from the point angled to the back post and off the forward’s skate at the back post. Somehow, Kelleher (15 saves) managed to quickly get her left pad out to deny the unexpected shot.
“The ice was tilted and it would’ve been nice to sneak one in there and it would’ve been exciting, but they worked hard and it just didn’t get through,” said Unger.
KP opened its first Hockomock League campaign with a win against Stoughton. Unger said of the new league, “I think it’s a boost for girls’ hockey. It’s a great thing for the girls. The more women’s hockey we can get out there, the better.”
Aldrich was excited for his program to be part of the Hock and to get its first ever season in the league started with a win. He said, “For girls’ hockey, this is awesome. It’s so deserving. To see what Jack has done with this program and how they’ve come up…When we first started playing them it was 14-0; those days are done. Now we’re hoping to claw and scratch and get a victory.”
Canton (2-0-1, 1-0-0) will get a week off before hosting Westwood at the Ice House. King Philip (1-2-0, 1-1-0) will look to bounce back on Saturday when it travels to face Dennis-Yarmouth at the Tony Kent Ice Arena.