FOXBORO, Mass. – Since the Hockomock League introduced girls hockey six years ago, the games have always been competitive but Canton has stood above the others as the team to beat each winter. King Philip went into Wednesday night’s showdown at the Foxboro Sports Center looking to knock Canton off its perch and bring home its first league title in the process.
Canton’s title-winning experience proved to be too much to overcome. Behind an Audrey Koen hat trick, the Bulldogs pulled out a 5-2 victory, winning their fourth straight Hock championship and fifth in the past six years.
“Experience is everything and unfortunately the only way to get it is to get it and to go through it, so I couldn’t have asked for a better balance,” first-year Canton coach Nikki Petrich said about her roster’s blend of youth and experience.
She continued, “Having a more tenured player maybe working with some of the younger girls and walking them through, you’re going to feel this way, you’re going to feel that way, but remember what we do in practice, remember to listen for our voices. It’s been great to have their leadership and experience because big players step up in big games.”
The Bulldogs outshot KP 11-5 in the opening period (and 36-15 for the game), but each Warriors shot was a quality scoring chance.
Nicole McDonald had the first look when she reacted to a loose puck after a face-off and was stopped from close range by Canton goalie Carolyn Durand. McDonald also forced a turnover in the attacking zone and played a pass across the crease to Katarina Precobb, but Durand somehow got across to the far post to make the point-blank pad stop and keep the game scoreless.
“I was like okay it’s 1-0,” Petrich said, thinking about that moment. “Carolyn makes the save and we go down, and to me it’s always transition hockey, but a huge save like that really lifted our team and the momentum to fight some more. Every single game she makes a save like that and we’re able to get energy from it.”
Kelly Holmes would have another good chance for KP after keeping the puck in at the blue line, but Durand got her blocker to it. On the other end, Tori Carr had one of Canton’s best early chances with a steal in the neutral zone and hard shot that KP goalie Mallory Johnston knocked aside. Abby Stock also had a chance from the high slot that forced a glove save.
Things felt even in the early going, but Canton got the game’s first power play and made sure to take advantage of the opportunity. Maya Battista collected the puck just outside the right wing circle and played a diagonal pass across the zone to the back post. Koen was pinching in from the boards and collected the puck, despite a slight deflection, before roofing a shot over Johnston’s glove side from a tight angle.
With the lead, Canton came out of the intermission full of energy. Koen almost doubled the lead after two minutes when she won the puck on the left wing boards, cut hard towards the net, and forced Johnston into a good save.
About 30 seconds later and the Bulldogs did make it 2-0. Freshman Izzy Cusack had her shot from the slot saved. The rebound kicked out in front of Johnston, who attempted to dive out and cover the loose puck, but Cusack stayed with it and was able to slide it past the goalie. KP argued that the whistle had gone to blow the play dead, but the goal stood.
KP continued to create chances. Mara Boldy slipped a pass between a pair of defenders and Holmes was able to slam the puck towards goal, but Durand got the pads down to make sure of the save.
With 9:10 left in the period, KP was back in the game. Holmes intercepted an outlet pass at the blue line and skated in alone on Durand before flicking a shot into the top corner. About a minute later, Canton was back in control. Koen flew down the right wing and rifled a shot just under the bar to make it 3-1 and steal back all the momentum from the hosts.
“I always tell them hockey ebbs and flows like life,” Petrich explained. “I don’t like to say we need another goal, it’s always one shot. To me, when you say a goal, it’s so much pressure. Never get too low, never get too high, so when you come out next shift clear your mind, clear your head, and go after it. For her to score that fast, I couldn’t have written it better.”
The goal sparked the Bulldogs back into life and they dominated the rest of the period, creating a 14-5 edge in shots on goal. Ellie Bohane had a good two tries to extend the lead when she drove towards goal and forced Johnston into a stop and then fired the rebound on net only for the KP goalie to flash a pad out and make the save.
Canton opened up a three-goal cushion with 3:46 left in the second. Anna Lehan came from the right wing and attempted a wrap around that was saved, but the loose puck came right out into the middle where Stock was charging towards goal and the freshman buried the chance.
KP’s hopes of a comeback in the third period were blunted by starting on the penalty kill and Canton wasted no time putting the game away. Koen completed her hat trick just 13 seconds in, whipping a wrister into the bottom left corner and making it 5-1.
The next several minutes were played almost exclusively in the KP zone. The Warriors finally got some chances down the other end of the ice with less than five minutes to play. While falling down, Holmes was able to slide a pass across the crease to McDonald, but Durand made the save. About 30 seconds later, Holmes again drove towards goal and got the puck in front and this time McDonald was able to squeeze it home.
Canton finished with a flourish, getting scoring chances from Cusack and Kayleigh Koen, but the work had already been done. The Bulldogs swarmed Durand at the final horn, having retained their Hock title once again.
“That was more pressure on me, I couldn’t let them down,” Petrich joked when asked about how it felt to bring home a fourth title in a row. “It feels amazing to accomplish that with them in our first year. As I’ve said all year, we’re continually learning from each other. The girls that have been here on the team who know the players and the teams and (assistant coach) Kevin [Cleary] and I and our knowledge of hockey and the teams we’ve played. It’s coming together.”
Canton (11-2-2) will be off until Monday when it faces Archbishop Williams, currently the top-ranked team in Div. 2, and then follows that with a trip to Duxbury, the No. 2-ranked team in the division. King Philip (7-9) will host Arlington Catholic on Monday night.