BRIGHTON, Mass. – When Canton faced off against Notre Dame Academy (Hingham) in last year’s Div. 2 state title game at the TD Garden, the 14th seed Bulldogs were the prohibitive favorite against the undefeated defending state champions and the game played out as expected with the Cougars claiming a second straight title.
Fast forward 12 months and the Bulldogs were more experienced, deeper, and full of belief that they could skate with NDA in Tuesday night’s Div. 2 quarterfinal at the Warrior Ice Arena and that was exactly how the game played out.
Junior forward Maggie Malloy continued her hot start to the playoffs with two goals and two assists and Canton’s top line accounted for all but one goal in a 5-2 victory that returned the Bulldogs to the state semifinal and exacted a measure of revenge for last March.
“It feels great,” said Malloy outside the locker room after the game. “We reversed it. We’re calling it the revenge tour.”
Canton coach Dennis Aldrich credited a preseason scrimmage with the Cougars, which finished in a 2-2 tie, for giving the team an extra boost of confidence heading into the season. He was able to remind his team of that performance heading into Tuesday’s rematch.
“It just built a lot of confidence and they came out and just wanted to out-compete them,” he said. “We had the talent level, we had seen enough of them…It was just our time.”
Malloy agreed, adding, “Playing a team like that the first time is going to be shocking but once you play them a couple times we have a better feel for who they are. This year we just said, we’re in great shape, we have great competition, and we’re just working together well.”
When the Bulldogs beat Walpole in the opening round, Aldrich was reminded of how every opponent that Canton beat last year claimed the better team had lost. He should have no concerns about that this season, as the Bulldogs controlled the majority of play right from the opening face-off.
Malloy, who scored a hat trick in the win against Walpole, had an early chance with a backhand that forced NDA goalie Erin Murray into a save. Two minutes later and Malloy put the Bulldogs in front. She stole the puck in the neutral zone, which Canton successfully clogged up all night, and skated in alone on Murray before ripping a shot into the top corner.
The Canton defensive pairings (Meg Aldrich and Katie Trerice and Alexa Maffeo and Leah McClellan) limited the potent Cougars attack to half-chances and only allowed six shots on goal in the first and 22 for the game.
“The biggest threat for them that I saw was their transition game and the best way to counter that for us is to get [the puck] behind them and wear them out a little,” Adrich said. “Our defensive reads were better, especially on [Alexa Graziano].”
With 4:39 left in the first, Malloy nearly doubled the lead after Lauren Fitzpatrick’s pass went off the skate of Kendra Farrelly on the edge of the crease and Malloy was able to put the loose puck on net. Just 10 seconds later, NDA had its first good look when Kelly Morrissey got free in the slot but Colleen Kelleher (20 saves) made a smart pad stop.
The Cougars would go into the first intermission level. On the face-off following the game’s first penalty, Canton got mixed up on coverage and gave Kelsey Stewart the time to pick her corner.
NDA seemed to take some momentum from the tying goal into the second period and Kelleher had to be sharp to deny Alexa Graziano has she drove in from the left circle. Canton regained its edge and the lead with 7:36 left in the second. Fitzpatrick centered for Farrelly again and this time the puck found Andrea McNeil on the far post. She took a second and then fired a shot inside the post before leaping in celebration.
“Our second goal came right off what we’re trying to do [on face-offs],” Aldrich explained. “One of their guys is trying to fire out and we just want to set a pick on her coming out and it ended up screwing her up a little bit, puck bounced around and boom it’s 2-1.”
The goal sparked Canton back into action. A Theresa O’Brien shot from the point was stopped by Lizzie Tassinari in the slot but her backhand went narrowly wide. Kelleher then had to make three saves on Graziano, including a nice double save coming off an NDA face-off win.
Aldrich said of Kelleher, “She made some huge saves early on. That Graziano girl, god she’s quite a player. She gave us fits but the only shots that Colleen didn’t save were the ones she didn’t see and that’s our fault.”
As the clock ticked under two minutes left in the period, Malloy struck again (her fifth goal of the postseason). Farrelly’s shot from the left was blocked but not held by Murray and Malloy was quick to dig out the puck from a scrum of sticks and skates and then flick it in for a 3-1 lead.
Malloy deflected praise for her scoring streak onto her teammates. She said, “As a team, everybody’s getting their effort to the net and the fact that I’ve scored them reflects on everyone that is on the ice. You can just tell that everyone in the locker room, on the bench, wants to get the puck in the back of the net.”
The first line has only been playing as a unit for a few games, but it has certainly found a rhythm at the right time of the season. Malloy said, “The first game, I don’t think it went that well but once we decided it doesn’t matter who is putting the puck in the net than things started to go well.”
Fitzpatrick got behind the NDA defense right from the opening face-off of the third period but Murray made a big stop to keep the Cougars in it. NDA then turned on the pressure, out-skating Canton for the first and really only stretch of the contest as it desperately tried to get back into the game. It paid off with a goal a minute into the third, as Merideth Stewart snuck a shot through a crowd in front and past an unsighted Kelleher to make it 3-2.
After a few minutes of NDA pressure, Canton recovered and took back the impetus. Malloy saw a shot glance off the shoulder of Murray and then on the power play Maffeo’s shot from the point and Malloy’s follow-up were both kept out by the NDA goalie.
Murray could only do so much and with 6:25 to play, Fitzpatrick got on the scoresheet when she drove off the right circle and went top shelf at the near post to restore the two-goal advantage. With 1:20 left and NDA putting on some pressure with an extra skater, Farrelly managed to hold off a defenseman and slide into a shot for an empty net goal that sealed the win.
Canton (17-3-3) will await the winner of Archbishop Williams and Natick in the state semifinal on Monday night back at the Warrior Ice Arena.
BOSTON, Mass. – Heading into the third period down by a single goal to defending Div. 2 state champion Notre Dame Academy (Hingham), the Canton girls’ hockey team was probably thinking that it had the Cougars right where it wanted them.
The Bulldogs (14-5-6), who entered the playoffs as the No. 14 seed, had shown a propensity for coming from behind to pull out wins during an improbable tournament run that had brought Canton all the way to the TD Garden for its first state title game appearance since 2006. Despite being behind by a goal, the Bulldogs remained confident.
“It was only 1-0 and we have come back from 1-0 games so many times,” said senior captain Rebecca Eckler. “We can get a goal in 30 seconds. We just knew that we can come back, we can do this, never give up and even with a minute left, we just cannot give up.”
Canton did come back and tied the game early in the third period. Andrea McNeil popped in a backhander on the rebound and fired up the large contingent of fans that made the trip up 93 for the early morning game.
However, the Cougars (23-0-1) responded just nine seconds later to regain the lead and freshman Katherine Pyne caught fire, scoring all four of NDA’s goals in the third period, while classmate Skyler Irving added a goal and three assists. The Cougars skated to a 5-2 victory and back-to-back state titles, despite a roster that has zero seniors.
“To see them tie the game, we could have crumbled,” said NDA coach Jean-Yves Roy, “and things could have gone south for us but I think it showed a lot of character and bounced back very next shift and we just kept rolling from there.”
Defense has been the strength of the Bulldogs all season. Sunday’s final was only the second time this year that Canton allowed an opponent to score more than two goals in a game and the first time since Barnstable scored four all the way back in December. That defense was put to the test against the high-scoring Cougars.
Junior goalie Colleen Kelleher stood tall to make an early save on a scoring opportunity for Emma Duffey, but six minutes into the game Irving reacted first to a rebound and was able to finish for a 1-0 lead. Pyne also had Kelleher beat two minutes later only to see her shot come back off the crossbar.
Kelleher made nine saves in the first and the Bulldogs grew into the game as the opening period wore on. Sophomores Katie Trerice and Leah McClellan, senior Molly McLaughlin, and freshman Alexa Maffeo all making solid plays to limit the Cougars to shots from the edges and the forwards starting the defensive effort with an aggressive forecheck.
“We thought we had a pretty good grasp on what they wanted to do and it kind of in a way fit into what we do anyways,” said Canton coach Dennis Aldrich. “A couple times they almost stuttered with the puck because we were taking away their wide wings and stuff like that.”
Sophomore Lauren Fitzpatrick had Canton’s best chance of the first period with a solo rush up the right side and a shot from the circle that was blocked aside.
Canton took control in the second period and started to create scoring chances by forcing turnovers in the neutral zone. McNeil had a good chance just a minute into the second but her rush to the net was blocked at the last second. Five minutes later, Trerice had a shot through traffic batted away and Ava Bevilacqua took the rebound the length of the ice and forced Kelleher into a save.
Kendra Farrelly nearly created the tying goal with seven minutes left in the second but her initial rush was tipped away by NDA goalie Erin Murray in the crease and Farrelly’s deflected follow-up was well saved by Murray. Three minutes later, Farrelly again created an opening down the left but her shot through the crease could not be tapped in at the back post by Fitzpatrick.
“These girls’ heads never drop,” said Aldrich. “There’s no panic. Our mantra all along has been attitude and focus and it’s not if it’s going to happen but when and how.”
Just two minutes into the third period, Canton’s seemingly stole the momentum for the game with the tying goal. McNeil pounced on a rebound off a shot by Fitzpatrick and planted it top shelf.
Aldrich said, “When we tied, I don’t think the girls were surprised, I certainly wasn’t surprised. I’ve seen them do it over and over again.”
NDA won the ensuing face-off and the puck slid all the way down into the Canton zone. Pyne showed off her speed to react first to the loose puck and she buried the chance for a 2-1 lead. The game was tied for only nine seconds.
“It was just one of those squirter pucks,” said Aldrich. “There’s no one at fault, no one to blame, just one of those squirters that happen. When you’ve got someone like the Pyne girl swarming around like a shark, she smells the blood and she can finish.”
Pyne added a second goal a little more than a minute later, but again Canton showed the resiliency to fight back. Fitzpatrick turned in the high slot and flung a shot at goal that took a funny bounce and ended up in the back of the net.
NDA responded quickly to regain the two-goal advantage. Pyne’s wraparound effort slid under the pads of Kelleher, who appeared to have it covered until she was bumped but the goal was given. With 2:26 left, Pyne added her fourth and the team’s fifth to seal the title.
Despite the disappointment of losing Sunday’s final, Rebecca Eckler reflected on what it meant just to get to that round. She said, “The journey here was just as awesome as it was being here. We never gave up in any games and all our hard work paying off and to come here…it was just awesome. I’m so proud of everyone and we did our best.”
Aldrich noted that three years ago, the Bulldogs won just three games. He praised the leadership of the seniors for getting the program to this point. “These guys, especially Rebecca and Kristen (Eckler) being our leaders, kept everyone focused on what we wanted and needed to do as a program. We got consistently better each game,” he said.
Aldrich added, “I coached boys’ hockey for 13 years and these guys, no offense to the boys, have taught me more in five…I’m just very, very grateful and proud to go on a run like this.”
When asked what it was like to skate on the TD Garden ice, Kristen Eckler said, “When we first stepped onto it, I couldn’t wait for that moment. I’ve been thinking about it all week, you step out there and you see your town, you see your parents, you see your family, it’s just awesome to have this experience.”
She joked, “If you told me a month and a half ago that I’d be playing at the Boston Garden, I would probably slap you or something because I wouldn’t believe it…It was just so much heart, soul, and hard work, blood, sweat and tears…that’s just our team.”
FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin faced perennial Div. 2 power Notre Dame Academy (Hingham) in the regular season finale on Saturday afternoon and it started well for the Panthers, who hit the bar and forced four saves from the NDA keeper in the opening 40 minutes, but the offense stalled after the break.
In the second half, the Cougars had an opportunity to hand Franklin just its third loss of the season but standing in the way was Catherine Robbins. The junior keeper stopped a pair of breakaways 15 minutes into the second half that preserved another clean sheet and grabbed Franklin a point in a 0-0 draw at Pisini Field.
“She’s been solid the whole year long,” said Franklin coach Tom Geysen of Robbins, who took over in net after the graudation of four-year starter Dani Lonati. “She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do. There isn’t anything more that she could have done than she’s already done.”
The Panthers were struggling to get anything going offensively in the second half, losing the ball in midfield and allowing the Cougars to push forward in the attack. In the 54th minute a bad bounce off the turf skipped over the head of Abigail Gipson and allowed Emma Tucker to get in alone on Robbins but the keeper stood tall and got two hands to the shot.
Franklin failed to clear the rebound and it was intercepted by Shannon LeVangie who also had a one-on-one with Robbins. The striker opened up her foot and tried to slide it past the keeper to the far post, but Robbins managed to drag her foot and get a toe on the shot to direct it around the post.
That would be the only chance of note for either team until the final eight minutes of the game. When asked about the struggles in the second half, Geysen replied, “The same thing happened the other day against KP when we were on that end of the field. I don’t know.”
He continued, “I don’t know if psychologically…I really don’t know. When we start watching every ball bounce then there’s something wrong. No matter what I said, they just weren’t reacting.”
Franklin tried to snag the full points with a flourish at the end of the game. Playing Molly Duncan up top as a focal point and with Halle Atkinson and Emily Mastaj running the wings, the Panthers went direct with balls over the top and in behind the NDA back line. It worked to create a few chances.
“In the last seven or eight years we were pretty to watch because we could move the ball,” explained Geysen. “We’re ugly as sin now. We can’t really move the ball very well, so we have to put the ball over the top.”
Mastaj had the best chance to steal the win when she got free on the edge of the six-yard-box to get a left-foot to Atkinson’s cutback from the byline, but the shot was straight at the NDA keeper.
Two minutes later, Franklin had another opportunity after good combination play between Jamie Dragsbaek and Grace Gallo freed up Sabrina Masters but her shot smacked off the football goalposts above the net.
“We played three games last week that were all physical games, but that’s just an excuse,” said Geysen about the Panthers inability to get going in the second half.
The first half was a very different game, as Franklin had several chances to take the lead and its physical play in the midfield took control of the matchup.
Dragsbaek had the first chance off a feed from Duncan but her lofted shot came back off the crossbar inside the opening 10 minutes. In the 13th minute, right back Nadia Havens put a 30-yard free kick on target and forced a diving save from the NDA keeper. Havens would also have a chance off a corner at the half-hour mark but her header flashed inches wide of the post.
Duncan was the primary outlet for the Panthers and she had a snap shot on the turn that was again saved by a diving NDA keeper and the rebound fell to Mastaj but she was unable to turn it in. Mastaj would get another chance when she outmuscled the NDA defender to get to Meghan Doherty’s through ball but the shot was saved.
Franklin finishes the regular season at 10-2-5 and will not wait the seedings for the Div. 1 South tournament that will come out next week.
NORTH EASTON, Mass. – The Oliver Ames revenge tour continued on Saturday evening, as the Tigers welcomed Notre Dame Academy (Hingham) to the William Nixon Gym for a Div. 2 South quarterfinal game.
The last time that the Tigers and Cougars met in NDA knocked off top seed Oliver Ames, which had finished its Hockomock schedule unbeaten and had only one loss at the time. Just like in the first round when OA faced league rival North Attleboro, which had knocked OA out of last season’s tournament, the Tigers exacted some revenge.
OA led by as many as 13 at several points in the fourth quarter and held off a very late charge by NDA to win 57-49 in a game that saw more than 40 fouls called between the two teams.
“It’s all this Twilight Zone stuff because we had North last time and they beat us and then NDA walks into our gym and the last time they were here it wasn’t a happy ending,” said OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook. “I started thinking to myself this is getting a little bit weird.”
Both teams came out with the intensity that would be expected from a tournament game, but neither could find the basket in the early going. It took nearly three minutes before Kayla Raymond (15 points, 16 rebounds) got the opening basket of the game on an offensive board.
Francesca Calabraro was the big spark for a struggling OA offense, scoring 10 of her team-high 18 points in the first half. She scored off a Hannah Carroll lead pass plus the foul then hit a jumper to close out the first quarter, this time off a Carroll skip pass, to give the Tigers a 9-8 lead after one.
After Raymond scored on a putback, Calabraro drove to the basket for two and then on an inbounds play stepped back and buried a three to put OA up 16-9.
Offense remained a struggle for the Tigers, but they did get six points from the line in the second and held a 26-19 lead at halftime.
“I think our struggle on offense was self-inflicted,” said Clement-Holbrook. “I’ve got some really young players with inexperience and when you get to this level I think they’re over-analyzing things and over thinking things.”
Calabraro again stepped up in the third quarter with another eight points and Raymond added four, all from the line. OA shot 9-14 from the line in the third as the game threatened to get out of hand with physical confrontations all over the court.
Clement-Holbrook said, “I knew it was going to be physical, but I didn’t expect it to be that physical. So I hope that gives us the potential for growth as we prepare for the next option.”
The Tiger continued to play their style of aggressive defense and were forcing a number of turnovers. Even when the offense was struggling, OA made the Cougars work for every point.
“That’s what has got us here is our defense and making it difficult for people to get a rhythm,” Clement-Holbrook remarked. “Honestly, I think if we didn’t play the level of intense defense we did tonight then I don’t think we’d be on the winning end of this because our offense really struggled.”
A by-product of the aggressive defense and the numerous fouls that were called was that for the second game in a row senior point guard Sam Bamford was forced to the bench with a fourth foul in the third quarter.
Going up against NDA guard Janey Mathisen (game-high 22 points), who like Bamford would not back down from the physical play, made it tough for Bamford to prevent fouls.
Clement-Holbrook said, “It’s intensity and she just has one speed. It’s either zero or 100 and she needs to learn how to ease up on the gas pedal a little bit.” The coach joked, “I’m just glad she’s not driving.”
In the fourth quarter, OA was on the verge of putting the game away. Abby Reardon (eight points) knocked down a pull-up jumper then Raymond added a couple of finishes at the rim and McCarthy hit a spinning layup that she threw up with her back to the basket and the Tigers’ lead grew to as many as 13.
NDA did not back down and continued to attack. An error on the scoreboard made the lead seem a point larger than it really was, but Mathisen cut the lead to as little as six, 55-49 (the scoreboard read 56-49 at the time), and the clock continued to stop as the fouls continued to pile up for both teams.
“We gave up a few more threes than I was really happy with,” said Clement-Holbrook, “and there were just too many fouls and too many free throws, especially in situations at the end when it could have gone either way and now the clock is stopped and now they’re getting points and that’s dangerous.”
McCarthy buried a pair from the line to ice the game and send OA onto the next round. “The thing for me honestly is that we finished, we finished it, and that’s what we had to do,” Clement-Holbrook said.
OA (19-3) will face Falmouth, which beat Foxboro in overtime on Saturday, in the Div. 2 South semifinal on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Massasoit College.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.