FRANKLIN, Mass. – In two seasons of Hockomock League play, Canton and Franklin have established themselves as the teams to beat. The Bulldogs won the inaugural league championship and then last season Franklin took the crown for the first time. In year three, the two teams went into the final game of the regular season separated by just two points at the top of the standings.
As has become the standard when the two teams meet, Wednesday night’s game at Pirelli Veterans Arena was close, defensive, and physical and, in the end, Canton was able to hold out for a 0-0 tie that secured the outright league title.
“It means a lot,” Canton coach Dennis Aldrich said about not sharing the title. “Especially here. When I used to coach the [Canton] boys, anytime we came here or [Franklin] used to come to Ponky, they called it the ‘Dungeon of Doom’, it’s just something about it. The crowd wasn’t the same, but the emotion was.”
With 1:37 remaining and with the Panthers setting up for an offensive zone face-off, Franklin coach Margie Burke called timeout and pulled goalie Gabby Colace (19 saves). There were several surprised reactions from beyond the glass, but it underscored the importance of the title race and how little one point would impact Franklin’s likely seed in the playoffs.
“A win gets us a championship,” said Burke. “I explained it to the kids and they understood why we did it. I had to do it. I’m extremely proud of my girls tonight, they played their heart out.”
The move nearly paid instant dividends, as the Panthers won the draw into the corner and puck was played out in front before being scrambled away. Olivia Maffeo came close to winning the game with 50 seconds left, but the Canton freshman sent a shot from beyond the red line inches wide for icing.
Another face-off led to another good chance for the Panthers, but Lyndsey Atkinson couldn’t keep her shot down from just inside the right circle. Canton pressured to try and get an empty net winner, but the Panthers defense was able to block a couple of shots heading towards goal. The pressure kept the puck in the Franklin defensive zone though and allowed the Bulldogs to run out the clock.
“I have so much respect for her and what she does,” said Aldrich. “It’s a lot of fun for our kids. She’s got a certain style. It’s throw three kids out front, throw the puck there, and see if you can beat them up. We knew that coming in, so we were really stick on stick. We had to commit on that.”
Franklin had more of the attacking play in the first period, outshooting Canton 6-3. Libby Carter had the first good look for the Panthers with a quick shot from the slot that Carolyn Durand (15 saves) was able to stop and then cover before Amanda Lewandowski could pounce on the rebound.
Canton took more than eight minutes to record its first shot, which came off a rush from her own zone by Maffeo. Less than 30 seconds later, the Bulldogs had another good chance when freshman Audrey Koen corralled a loose puck forced a save from Colace.
Atkinson had a near breakaway with six minutes left in the first but the puck was poked away as she tried to pull it onto her backhand and round the goalie.
The visitors started to gain a foothold in the game and ended up with a 10-6 edge in shots in the second. Koen teed up Tess Khoury for an early look right in front but Colace got a pad to the shot. With five minutes left in the second, Maffeo made another long rush into the attacking zone and fired a pass in front by Lizzie Tassinari couldn’t redirect it on net.
Tina Pisano forced a good pad stop from Durand with a wrister from the point and then Canton came inches away from the lead when Maffeo struck the post with a shot from the right circle. Maria Femia followed up the rebound but Colace got across to block the shot.
It remained tense into the third period and it felt like one goal could decide it. Ellie Rae Roberts had a great chance for the Bulldogs, as she collected a deflected puck on the edge of the crease, but Colace again flashed a pad to make the stop.
“It’s so important because we have that confidence that defensively we’re going to do well,” Burke said about the play of her goalie. “It’s putting the puck in the net and we had our opportunities tonight.”
With two minutes to go, Shaw Downing had a shot from the point that was knocked down in front and the Canton defense was able to get it out of the danger area before Lewandowski could get a stick to it. Twenty seconds later, Franklin had a two-on-one rush. Atkinson flipped a pass to Carter on the left wing, but Maffeo came sliding across to block the first chance, and Durand had the angle covered on the second shot.
That set up a frantic finish with the Panthers throwing an extra skater out there in hopes of stealing a share of the title, but the Bulldogs held on to the shutout and both teams got important experience playing in a playoff-like atmosphere.
“We talked about how it was such a good game for us because we should expect that type of game,” Aldrich explained. “It’s going to be that type of punch you in the face, throw the puck to the net. Overall, defensively I thought we did what we wanted to do.”
Burke added, “Franklin and Canton just have that hockey rivalry. They always have and always will.”
Canton (14-1-4) will close out the regular season with a visit from Barnstable on Monday and a trip to Walpole on Wednesday. Franklin (6-8-5) will finish up its regular season when it hosts Leominster next Wednesday.