By HockomockSports.com Staff
2019 Hockomock League Baseball Preview
2018 Record: 9-11
2018 Finish: Missed playoffs
Coach: Steve Dunlea
After missing out on the playoffs by just one game last season, the Bombardiers are hoping to their experience will help them reach the state tournament this year.
Attleboro has experience in its pitching staff, behind the plate, and both in the infield as well the outfield. The Bombardiers pitching was a strength last season and should be again this year. Eoin Kelleher, the 2017 HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year, returns for his senior season and will be the anchor on the staff. Junior Ryan Morry impressed during his outings last season and lefty Camden Fitzpatrick will be in the mix as well.
The Bombardiers will be very strong on the left side of the infield. Senior captain Mason Houle will man third base while junior Tim Callahan, a starter last season, takes over at shortstop. Junior Lorenzo Wilson is slated to take the job at first base while Morry and junior Nick McMahon will split time at second base. While it’s a strong group defensively, all four will be relied upon to step up offensively. Attleboro had just 80 runs total last year, least in the Kelley-Rex division.
Another big part of the offense will be center fielder Alvaro Espinal. Espinal is arguably the best fielding outfielder in the league and will also bring a spark to the Bombardiers lineup at the plate. Senior captain Robbie Furtado will fill in at left field while Sam Larkin and Troy Gamache will both see time in right as well as designated hitter. Behind the plate, Troy Van Vliet gives the Bombardiers some experience while sophomore Bailey Camacho gives first-year head coach Steve Dunlea some flexibility at the position.
“The strength of this team is its senior class leadership and team chemistry,” Dunlea said. “We really have a well-balanced team that is strong in all phases of the game. It’s going to be a fun group to watch this year.”
2018 Record: 5-15
2018 Finish: Missed playoffs
Coach: Ben Shuffain
A strong core of returning players along with some young talent should make for a fun season for the Bulldogs in 2019.
After losing a few key pieces from 2018, there is a good mix of experienced players and talented youth for first-year head coach Ben Shuffain to work with. The Bulldogs will look to three senior captains to the lead the way: Matt Pigeon, Paul Corcoran and Robert Sullivan. Pigeon is a three-year starter behind the plate who batted .368 last season. Corcoran and Sullivan will anchor a deep pitching staff that has looked solid in the preseason.
The pitching staff will also include seniors Kevin McGonigle, Nick Murray, and Joe Bates. Along with them Shuffain will also lean on junior Chris Rota and sophomores Nate Hewitt and Matt Connolly on the mound.
The infield has a double play duo that has shown to work well together featuring senior Mike Konzal and returning second baseman Nathan Quan. Offensively Canton will look to senior Max Macort along with juniors Owen Lahane and Lucas Bryant, and sophomore Steven Burbank.
“We have been very fortunate to have a lot of work outside so far this spring and I think it is going to help us start off on a positive,” Shuffain said. “The team is coming together and we have a great group of kids who really want to turn this program around.”
2018 Record: 5-16
2018 Finish: Reached D3 South First Round
Coach: Derek Suess
Foxboro graduated 10 seniors from last year’s squad but there are 12 Warriors returning with varsity experience looking to make another trip to the state tournament.
The Warriors will be relying on their pitching staff this year to lead the way. There is a lot of optimism surrounding the rotation with senior Anthony Mollica and sophomore Sean Yoest each possessing plenty of varsity experience. Those two will be the top guys in the rotation while sophomore Cam Prescott has impressed during the preseason and could fit into the third starting spot. Seniors Guy Quartarone, Brian Duncan, and Philip Thomas as well as juniors Michael Devlin and Joe Cavaleri will be in the mix as well.
When he isn’t on the mound, Mollica will be the anchor of the defense from the shortstop position. He will be joined by sophomore Michael O’Toole at first base, Cavaleri will man third, and Thomas will take over at second base. Senior Adam Lanctot will also see time at second base this season for the Warriors.
In the outfield, Duncan — a senior captain that missed all of last season — will be the anchor, with Devlin handling center field duties and junior James Kaeser rounding out the Warrior outfield. Junior Zach Jenkins will also be in the mix for time in the outfield while junior Kyle McGinnis takes over behind the plate and will be relied upon as a key piece of Foxboro’s offense.
“Mentally, we have to have the same focus, energy, and intensity every single game,” said Foxboro coach Derek Suess. “There are no easy games in the Hockomock League. We must be consistent in our everyday approach in order to have a chance to compete for a league title.”
2018 Record: 21-5
2018 Finish: Division 1A (Super 8) State Champions
Coach: Zach Brown
Coming off the program’s first-ever Super 8 state championship, Franklin is going to have a big target on its back — and the Panthers know it.
Franklin lost its top three pitchers in Jake Noviello, Bryan Woelfel, and Jason Ulrickson. Those were the only three pitchers to play during the Panthers’ Super 8 run. This season, the Panthers will turn to the experience of Ben Guzman, Brennan Rivera, and Will Pacheco. All three made appearances a year ago with Guzman and Pacheco registering wins. Guzman is currently recovering from an injury suffered in the preseason but the Panthers are excited for his contributions when he returns. Juniors Liam Dailey and Cody Trotin will also be in the mix after starting for JV last season.
While the pitching staff gets settled in, the Panthers will rely on its defense and offense. After an up-and-down regular season last year offensively, Franklin will be trying to carry over the success it had in the state tournament. Senior Alex Haba is back at shortstop and is one of the best two-way players in the Hockomock. Jake Macchi had a terrific postseason and will be looking to carry that over into his final year starting at catcher for Franklin. Scott Elliott will be the veteran in the outfield for the Panthers as well as a top offensive weapon. All three players — Haba, Macchi, and Elliott — are committed to playing baseball at Merrimack.
Cooper Ross is coming off a strong postseason and will start at third base while junior Jack Nally had a standout sophomore campaign in center field and will move up to the top of the order to set the table for the Panther offense. JB Floris will move from the designated hitter spot to first base and brings an experienced bat with him. Senior Joe Lizotte should see time in the outfield while senior Shane O’Neil’s versatility gives Franklin a lot of options defensively.
“We know this isn’t last year, this is a totally different team with different dynamics,” said Franklin head coach Zach Brown. “We like the makeup of our team, with guys working hard and the seniors being good leaders. I think we could be pretty good defensively, and we’ve shown at times in the preseason to be pretty versatile on offense.”
2018 Record: 7-14
2018 Finish: Missed playoffs
Coach: Greg Kessler
King Philip is returning a lot of experienced players from last year’s squad and is hoping that will turn into an improved season and berth in the state tournament.
One big reason for optimism is a seasoned pitching staff, which features seniors David Morganelli and Terry Murray. Morganelli posted a 1.99 ERA last season along with 43 strikeouts in 38.2 innings pitched. Murray will be the second starter for the Warriors while juniors Chris Sawyer and Robbie Jarest are expected to factor into the rotation as the season progresses.
“David’s size, strength, and velocity make him a formidable pitcher,” said KP’s second-year head coach Greg Kessler. “His slider and ability to locate his fastball are one of the best in the league. David has an opportunity to be one of the best pitchers in the Hock. He is competitive and has improved a lot in terms of accuracy.”
Sawyer and Jarest will handle the left side of the infield again this year, with Jarest returning as the starting shortstop and Sawyer back manning third base. Both players will be key pieces at the top of KP’s batting order. Senior Ian Zimmerman returns at second base while senior Jake Anderson and sophomore Conor Cooke will both see time behind the plate.
Timmy Nault (.311 last year) will lead the way in the outfield while Zachary Zarba will figure in as well. There is a lot of competition for some open spots in the KP lineup as well.
“We have a lot of work to do this season, we need to improve on our hitting and driving the ball,” Kessler said. “We have a great group of seniors who are dedicated and excited to compete for a Hock Title. This senior group is a collection of great student-athletes and really represent KP well. They are leaders on and off the field”
2018 Record: 19-5
2018 Finish: Super 8 First Round
Coach: Joe Breen
Mansfield had a very successful 2018 season that saw the Hornets win the Kelley-Rex division and earned a berth into the Super 8 tournament. But the Hornets enter the 2019 campaign hungrier than ever.
After seeing an early exit from the Super 8, Mansfield is aiming to get back and make some noise in the tournament this year. There will certainly be holes to fill after graduating two top pitchers in Tyler Dalton and Kevin Dow, as well as the steady bat of Justin Pena and the terrific defense of catcher Cullin Anastasia. However, there are 11 players due back from last year’s team and a handful of new faces ready to make an impact of their own.
Junior John Carney and senior Kevin Moran will anchor the rotation; the Hornets unfortunately lost ace Connor Sheehan for the season to an injury. Both Carney and Moran have experience though, and Mansfield is looking to seniors Jake Gerraughty, Matt Scibilia, Aidan Angland, Connor Smith, and sophomore Greg Coyle to fill the relief and spot start roles.
Mansfield brings back two of its three outfielders from last year with centerfielder Sam Nugent and right field Dan Saraceno both returning. Speedy shortstop Mike Hargadon is also back so the Hornets have three key pieces from the top half of the lineup back to pace the offense this year. Look for Eric Longley, Jenkins, Smith, Gerraughty, and Scibilia to also factor into to the Hornet lineup this year.
“It’s been a wild offseason here between losing some of our top guys and coming down with the injury bug but we have a great group of self-motivated returning players that we will look to keep our program going in the right direction,” said Mansfield head coach Joe Breen. “There are a lot of positional battles and innings on the mound to be sorted out, but the staff is excited to see the boys compete over the first couple weeks of the pre-season to get ourselves ready for [the first game]. While we had some great success last season, the boys know that we are 0-0 and they are ready to carve their own path.”
2018 Record: 5-15
2018 Finish: Missed playoffs
Coach: Alex Dion
After having a relatively young, inexperienced group in 2018, the Scarlet Hawks have flipped the script, bringing back six starters and eight total players and will be looking to ride that experience to an improved 2019 campaign.
Half of the returning starters are the three starting pitchers from last year, including senior Danny Corsini and juniors Colby Pires and Luke Rosa. Despite a 1-3 record last year, Rosa had a solid 2.97 ERA in 30.2 innings of work with 19 strikeouts. Corsini logged over 35 innings while Pires had over 24, so there is plenty of experience in the Hawk’s rotation.
Senior captain Matt Shaver returns to his shortstop position and will anchor the infield. Corsini and Pires will both see time at third base when they aren’t pitching, Justin Applebee is back for another season at second base, and Tyler Almeida continues his duties as the starting catcher for the Hawks. Senior captain Nick Marcolini gives the Hawks a left-handed option on the mound. Sophomores Carter Scudo (outfield) and Mario Lee (first, pitcher) will also factor in this year.
“I’m looking forward to the 2019 baseball season and am excited about the players that are on our team,” said Milford head coach Alex Dion. “This is a tough league with a lot of good teams and good coaches. I think we have an opportunity to be very competitive this year. I will lead on our returning seniors and captains to push this team in the right direction and I am excited about the young players we have in our program.”
2018 Record: 22-2
2018 Finish: Division 2 State Champions
Coach: Mike Hart
North Attleboro is looking to replicate its success from last season, the best year in program history that resulted in the D2 State Championship. And with a solid group of returning players, there is optimism but the Rocketeers know it certainly won’t come easy.
“We are a team with a decent amount of returning players, but we will need everybody contributing to be successful,” said North Attleboro coach Mike Hart. “We are looking for guys to be more consistent, especially on the offensive side of the game.”
The Rocketeers have three returning starters in the infield, so that will certainly be relied upon as the season gets underway. Senior Nick Raneri started at third last season but will move over to first this year while seniors Shawn Watters and Ryan Warren will take care of business up the middle. Hart says there is a lot of competition for the final spot in the infield with a handful of players possibly seeing time. Brendan McHugh returns as the starting left fielder while Kyle Bolger, Russell Dunlap, and Kyle Briere are all in the mix.
Behind the plate, senior Todd Robinson and junior Owen Harding are battling for the starting spot.
While the Rocketeers look to get the offense going, they will rely on their pitching staff early on. Matt Wanless had a very strong junior year and will be counted on heavily this season while seniors Matt Seavey, Jake Palmer, Jake Carroll, as well as Dunlap and Briere, should be in the mix for innings. Sophomore Dennis Colleran will see an increased role this season and could emerge as a top option for the Big Red.
“We will rely heavily on our pitching staff to lead us, and with smart, mistake-free defense, we will be able to win some games,” Hart said. “I really like the competitiveness our team brings every day. If we can learn from our failures and grind through the tough parts of the season that are sure to come, I believe we can win some ball games.”
2018 Record: 16-8
2018 Finish: Reached D2 South Final
Coach: Joe Abarr
Oliver Ames is coming off one of its most successful seasons, reaching the D2 South Final last year. The Tigers graduated some key pieces but there is a lot of players back that gives OA hopes at replicating last year’s success.
Senior Chris Pearsons will be a leader on and off the field for the Tigers, moving over from third base to take over the starting shortstop spot. Pearsons is one of the top players in the league, earning HockomockSports.com First Team honors last year after belting out 30 hits for an impressive .448 average. Not only is he a dangerous offensive player, he’s one of the top defensive players in the league as well.
Another key returner for the Tigers is catcher Jake Erlich, who will begin his third year starting behind the plate. Erlich is one of the top defensive catchers in the region and OA is looking for him to have a breakout season at the plate. Junior Jacob Levine showed flashes last season with some timely hits as a pinch hitter. This year, Levine takes over at first and the Tigers will be looking for him to bring a consistent bat to the lineup.
Reid Latham, who went 2-1 last season with a 2.85 ERA, focused heavily on pitching this offseason and will take over as the top starter in the Tigers’ rotation.
“We have an established lineup of varsity hitters with a handful of underclassmen that will be filling in gaps for us,” said Oliver Ames coach Joe Abarr. “Our pitching rotation should be solid as long as everyone stays healthy. Last year, the Hock proved to be one of the best leagues in the state. We need to show up and compete every day if we want to be successful.”
2018 Record: 6-14
2018 Finish: Missed playoffs
Coach: Kee Arguimbau
After a couple of seasons of being on the outside looking in, the 2019 Sharon Eagles are looking to make strides towards a state tournament berth.
Although it will be a relatively young group, there is strong senior leadership. Head coach Kee Arguimbau is hoping that a nice mix of veterans and new faces will result in a successful season.
Tarlin was also the ace of the staff for the past couple of seasons but senior Noah Kamens should be ready to step into the top spot after some real strong outings last year. A lefty, Kamens does a nice job mixing up his pitches and will be a key part of Sharon’s defense. Kamens will be complemented by 6’6 righty Max LeBlanc, who burst onto the scene a year and had some impressive outings. Jared Reef returns behind the dish and the Eagles are looking for him to have a breakout year offensively.
Junior Alec Filipkowski is moving in from the outfield to second base while sophomore Justin Brown returns to shortstop after picking up valuable experience last season as a freshman. Noah Martinez, who recently returned to Sharon after living in Florida, could be a key piece of the offense while playing the hot corner defensively.
Seniors Dairell Martinez and Matty Jacobsen will be doing their part for the Eagles in the outfield while = senior Ben Reinbold looks to have an impact for Sharon on the mound.
“This year’s team is young. Luckily, what we lack in experience, we make up for in solid leadership,” Arguimbau said. “The seniors have done a phenomenal job in establishing the culture for the team this season. The young guys in the program have followed their lead and have been working hard in the offseason and are ready to continue to put the work in every day.
2018 Record: 10-9
2018 Finish: Reached D2 South First Round
Coach: Mike Armour
Stoughton had a solid season a year ago, but an early exit from the state tournament has left the Black Knights hungry for more in 2019.
It starts with the two co-captains for the Black Knights: senior Zak Paquette and senior Robert Seaman. Paquette emerged as Stoughton’s top option on the mound last season and will be counted on to take on a lot of innings again this season. Paquette isn’t the most flashy pitcher but he helps put Stoughton in position to win games. Seaman will start at shortstop and the Black Knights are looking to him for a big bat in the middle of the lineup.
Last year’s HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year George Currier is looking to pick up where he left off last season, giving the Black Knights flexibility with his ability to play anywhere on the field defensively. Seniors Cian Swierzewski, Kevin Dixon, and Kyle Gagnon are all experienced outfielders, James Genest III gives Stoughton a nice presence at the plate offensively, and Mike Nazzaro will handle catching duties.
Newcomers Clayton Rahaman and Jacob Kaplan should log some innings in the outfield, along with Cam Dirosa in the infield and Brady Conlin in the infield and on the mound. Senior pitcher Evan Jackman has impressed so far this preseason and will be a key piece of Stoughton’s starting rotation.
“The goal this season will be to compete every time we set foot on the field, playing sound fundamental baseball and doing the little things to put us in a position to win some ballgames,” said Stoughton head coach Mike Armour. “The boys have been working hard and I expect us to have some fun this year and play the game the right way.”
2018 Record: 1
2018 Finish: Reached D1 South First Round
Coach: Blair Bourque
There is a lot of excitement in Taunton with its new turf field, but the Tigers are hoping it’s their performance on that field that will have people talking by the end of the year.
It all starts with pitching for Taunton this year. With two DI commits in Jack Moynihan (Siena) and Josh Lajoie (St. John’s), the Tigers will certainly be boasting one of the top pitching groups for another season. Moynihan posted a 1.44 ERA with 43 strikeouts while Lajoie fanned 36 batters and had a 1.52 ERA.
Both Moynihan and Lajoie provide a lot of offense as well, but the Tigers will need others to step up to fill some voids from graduation. Tyler Medeiros (.375) and Trevor Pietrzyk (.373) both graduated some Taunton’s offense so head coach Blair Bourque will be looking for some new faces to step up.
The Tigers will be looking to senior Evan Melo to give the offense a spark. Melo will patrol center field and set the table to the offensively from the leadoff spot. Junior Logan Lawrence impressed last year batting .336; Taunton will need his bat to provide pop in the middle of the lineup in 2019.
“We’re certainly excited about having the opportunity to showcase our new turf field,” said Taunton head coach Blair Bourque. “It’s really a dream come true. There’s something special about this year’s team, the senior leadership and camaraderie are substantial.”
Below are the official 2019 Hockomock League Boys Hockey All Stars, selected by the coaches in the league.
Hockomock League MVP
Espen Reager, Foxboro
Hockomock League All Stars
Ryan Morry, Attleboro
Sam Larkin, Attleboro
Ryan Nolte, Canton
Michael Staffiere, Canton
John Hagan, Canton
Owen Lehane, Canton
Espen Reager, Foxboro
Brendan Tully, Foxboro
Joseph Lizotte, Franklin
Thomas Tasker, Franklin
Shane McCaffrey, Franklin
Brendan Shandley, King Philip
Rocco Bianculli, King Philip
Jack Garland, Mansfield
Brad Grant, Mansfield
Ryan Warren, North Attleboro
Anthony Zammiello, North Attleboro
Brendan McHugh, North Attleboro
Max Ward, Oliver Ames
Brett Williams, Oliver Ames
Matthew McCormack, Oliver Ames
Sean Doherty, Stoughton
Andrew Carter, Taunton
Kyle McCabe, Attleboro
Jack Connolly, Canton
Ronnie MacLellan, Foxboro
Cam Cassella, Franklin
Ryan Fitzpatrick, King Philip
Chris Copponi, Mansfield
Dennis Morehouse, North Attleboro
Bryan Kearns, Oliver Ames
Carter Gerome, Stoughton
Cameron Sneyd, Taunton
For the last 13 games, the duo reunited on the Bulldogs’ top line, ramping up Canton’s already potent offense.
And in the biggest game of the season, the Division 2 State Championship against North sectional champion Tewksbury, Nolte and Hagan — along with linemate Timmy Kelleher — delivered when it mattered most.
“They are so dynamic together, they play so well together,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman. “They know where each other are at all times. They have this unique relationship on the ice that I’ve never seen before.”
Nolte and Hagan played on the same line for nearly the entire 2017-2018 season, helping the Bulldogs win another Davenport division title and reach the D2 South Semifinal. This season, Shuman decided to split the dynamic duo to begin the year, putting them on separate lines.
After tying for a team-high 36 points a year prior, splitting Nolte and Hagan gave Shuman an elite player on each of his first two lines, and also allowed Hagan to play his natural position of center.
“The best part about them, when I talked to them about splitting them they might have been unhappy but they didn’t show it,” Shuman said. “They just went out and had an outstanding first half of the season. That just shows the kind of leaders that they are. I know a lot of high school kids that would pout and sulk and let it affect their game, but not those two. They are just two special players, as good as they are individually, they are two great team players.
While Nolte and Hagan admitted they weren’t thrilled to part ways, neither let it show in their performance and helped the Bulldogs raced out to a perfect 13-0, outscoring opponents 64-13 in that span. Plus, it wasn’t an entire split as the pair played together on the power play and penalty kill.
“Coach told us a few weeks before the season, so it definitely hurt the next few days knowing we weren’t going to be playing on the same line,” Nolte said. “But we had to stay focused no matter who we were playing with. We knew we’d be together for the power play and PK, so it wasn’t a full split. But we knew that we had to work just as hard with our new linemates and we adapted well.”
So after three straight close games — a win over Newburyport, a third-period rally to stun Franklin, and a close win over North that included a late game-winner — along with the emergence of junior center Tommy Ghostlaw, Shuman elected to reunite Hagan and Nolte with Kelleher on the first line.
The result was four straight comfortable wins, outscoring opponents 24-1 in that stretch. And in one of the most challenging games of the year, Nolte and Hagan each scored in a 4-3 decision over D3 powerhouse Hanover.
“We already had the hot start so we knew playing together we could really pounce on teams even more,” Nolte said. “It was just a great feeling to be back on the same line and playing together.”
A week later, Hagan provided the heroics by scoring a goal regulation to salvage a tie with Boston late and keep the Bulldogs unbeaten. The junior then scored in overtime to help Canton advance to the final of the Quinn Memorial tournament.
“It’s always good to kind of shake things up,” Shuman said. “Since I’ve been coaching here, I don’t think we’ve ever gone from start to finish with the same line combinations, and it’s kind of by design. You play some teams twice, like Franklin, or could see another team twice like OA. It’s good to have different looks. It was always in the plans to do this at some point.”
Ghostlaw’s strong play allowed Shuman to keep Nolte and Hagan together on the top line. Ghostlaw (13 points) clicked with linemates Chris Lavoie (27 points) and Shane Marshall (15 points), giving the Bulldogs a strong second unit.
“Tommy is kind of the other part of the equation,” Shuman said. “He had such an outstanding season that allowed us to keep those two on the first line together. Chris Lavoie was fantastic, and Shane Marshall, someone who doesn’t enough credit a lot of the time, he was outstanding too.”
When the playoffs rolled around, Canton’s top line took its game to another level. In an opening-round rout of Medway, Nolte scored twice while Hagan and Kelleher each scored once in a 6-0 victory.
Again Oliver Ames, Nolte scored the game-winning goal midway through the second period by tipping in a shot from Jack Connolly. Kelleher buried an empty net goal to seal a win over the Tigers, arguably the toughest opponent the Bulldogs played this postseason.
In the semifinals, Nolte recorded a hat trick, two of which were assisted by Hagan. And Hagan also scored once, set up by Nolte, as the Bulldogs ran away with a 6-1 decision over Norwood.
The offensive onslaught continued in the South Final as the Bulldogs’ top line was responsible for half of Canton’s eight goals. Kelleher scored twice while Hagan and Nolte both found the back of the net once while registering two assists apiece.
“He definitely makes it easier for everyone on the ice,” Hagan said of Nolte. “We’ve played together since we were very young. We’ve always clicked, we know where each other are going to be. We knew what we had in front of us in terms of winning the state championship. We wanted it really bad, so we just came to work every day. We worked out butts off in practice and in games to get here, and here we are.”
Under the lights at the TD Garden, Canton’s first line shined the brightest. That line was on the ice for all six of the Bulldogs’ goals, scoring five of them.
Kelleher opened the scoring, tucking in the rebound off a shot from Owen Lehane with Nolte getting an assist with 9:04 left in the opening period. Minutes later, Connolly blasted a low shot from the right point to make it 2-0 with 7:27 to go in the first.
It took just 16 seconds for Canton to add to its lead as Nolte muscled his way into the slot and buried a wrist shot to make it 3-0.
“Without question, they are the best team we’ve played for sure.” said Tewksbury coach Derek Doherty. “You don’t get this far without three lines. Those guys play three lines but that first line of theirs, that’s definitely the best line we’ve played.”
The cohesion between Nolte and Hagan was on full display for the next two goals. The first, Hagan interrupted a pass near the blue while Tewksbury was on the power play. He went into the offensive zone and had his shot saved, but Nolte won the battle behind the net and found Hagan in front for a one-timer and a 4-0 lead.
Of Canton’s 29 playoff goals, the top line of Nolte-Hagan-Kelleher scored 19 of them.
“They carried us today, we asked them to play a lot of minutes,” Shuman said. “When you have penalties and power plays, that throws a wrench in the plans. We joked with Johnny, ‘Where’s your hat trick’ and there it was today. That line of Ryan, Johnny, and Timmy, what can you say about them? They played great.”
The Redmen cut it to 4-2 with two straight tallies over the second and third periods, but Nolte and Hagan responded with a power-play goal. Nolte won a battle along the side boards, skated towards goal and slid a pass to Hagan right in front for a score.
Hagan completed the hat trick with an empty net goal, assisted, of course, by Nolte.
“No matter where we are on the ice, we seem to just know where each other are,” Nolte said. “We just find the open spots, and we both can finish in the tight areas. It makes life easier when you have someone who can finish like [Hagan] can.”
While Nolte and Hagan didn’t start the season playing on the same line, they finished it together as state champions.
BOSTON, Mass. – Canton went into Sunday afternoon’s Div. 2 state championship game against Tewksbury looking to put a fitting exclamation point on a historic season. The Bulldogs were trying to be the first team since Hanover won the D3 title in 2001 to finish a season unbeaten, be just the fourth team to win 25 games in a single year, and to earn the program’s first title since 2010.
Despite all that pressure, the Bulldogs did what they have done all season long – they found a way to win.
“It’s one of those things that it was hard not to know that we’d be good with the guys that we had back,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman, “but you still think you’re going to have a couple of tough games. It just goes to show how driven these guys are. That was their goal, to win every single game, and they did it.”
Nolte said, “It’s unbelievable. We knew in the summer that this was a goal, but, yeah, I don’t think the undefeated part came with it. We worked hard all off-season, so I think we deserved it and we went out and showed the work that we put in.”
Entering the playoffs unbeaten put a giant target on Canton’s back, but it seemed only to motivate the Bulldogs, who outscored opponents 29-3 during their tournament run. Canton scored six against Norwood in the D2 South semifinal, eight against Westwood in the final, and then another six against the Redmen on Sunday.
“They were just relentless, they did not stop,” Shuman explained. “We always say that it’s a 0-0 hockey game no matter the score, but they always played like that.”
Skating on the big ice and bright lights of the Garden can take some getting used to and it seemed like the Bulldogs needed a couple shifts to find their legs. Once they found their footing in the first period, the Bulldogs took control of the game.
Shane Marshall had the first chance on a feed from behind the net by Tommy Ghostlaw, but Tewksbury goalie Patrick Letourneau kept his pads down to block a pair of shots. Canton grabbed the lead five minutes into the game. Seconds after Nolte was denied on a shot from the left wing circle, Owen Lehane’s shot from the point rebounded to Timmy Kelleher for a tap-in.
Just about 90 seconds later and the lead was doubled. Ronan O’Mahony swung the puck across the blue line to Jack Connolly, who patiently crept towards the face-off circle before firing a low wrister just inside the post. Nolte added a third goal with a shot from the slot just 16 seconds later.
Three goals in less than two minutes had the Bulldogs thinking the title was as good as won.
Shuman said, “It seems like the story of the playoffs. We’ve played with a lot of pressure on us this entire postseason, but it’s amazing when you have a crew like these guys how quickly they can strike. It just goes to show the quality of players we have on that team.”
“It’s huge,” said Nolte about the early goals. “No matter what, Mike [Staffiere] will play his best every game, so if we get a few goals early that just makes us more confident. The earlier we score the better we feel because with Mike back there we know there won’t be too many pucks going in.”
The Redmen tried to cut into the lead early in the second period when Kyle Morris got free on a shorthanded breakaway but Mike Staffiere came through with a clutch glove save. Two minutes later, Canton got its own shorthanded odd-man rush that Tewksbury struggled to clear, the puck falling right to Hagan in the slot and he calmly put it away.
Tewksbury was down four goals but was playing much better in the second period. Staffiere again had to come up big to stop a pair of chances from the edge of the crease. The Redmen finally found a breakthrough after Morris stole the puck behind the Canton goal and played it out in front to Aaron Scott.
Chris Lavoie and Marshall nearly had instant responses for the Bulldogs but it remained 4-1 after two periods. The lead got smaller early in the third. Kyle Lombardo got a piece of a Campbell Pierce shot from the point, redirecting it past Staffiere to make it 4-2.
With 7:19 remaining, Canton added a big insurance goal on a power play. Nolte skated off the half-boards and picked out Hagan cutting to the goal. The junior took a touch to control and then buried his shot over the shoulder of Letourneau for a 5-2 lead.
“They carried us today,” said Shuman about his top line. “We kind of joked with Johnny, ‘where is your hat trick?’ and he had it today. He really stepped up. That line of Ryan, Johnny, and Timmy, what can you say about them? They played great.”
Tewksbury had a goal disallowed for an offsides call and with three minutes left decided to pull its goalie. Hagan sealed the title for the Bulldogs when he beat a defender to a loose puck and scored on the empty net.
“It definitely feels good and I’ll definitely remember this forever,” said Hagan about his hat trick. “I think we really tried to play within ourselves and not really get into the hype around us. We just played our game.”
One of the storylines throughout the playoff run was Canton bouncing back after being snubbed by the Super 8. Shuman, who played on the unbeaten 1998 Catholic Memorial team that won the Super 8, dismissed the idea that the Bulldogs were motivated by not being selected.
“That’s so far in the rearview mirror,” he said. “These guys, when we shared with them about the Super 8, they were just like, ‘okay, on to D2.’ This was their goal from day one and I can’t believe the maturity they showed when that happened. It didn’t motivate us, we just focused on taking care of business in D2.”
The Bulldogs took care of business and made history in the process. “I really don’t even think it’s set in yet,” said Hagan. “It will probably set in with the police escort, riding through the center of town. It’s unreal.”
BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. – Canton is no stranger to playing important games at Gallo Arena. Coming into this year’s playoffs, the Bulldogs had played nine times in Bourne since winning the state title in 2010, reaching at least the sectional semifinal every year but one, but had only won twice at Gallo in that span.
After a convincing win against Norwood in the semifinal, Canton had the opportunity to end nearly a decade’s wait for a return to the TD Garden and set aside recent history in this venue. The Bulldogs did that in style, dominating second-seed Westwood from start to finish in the Div. 2 South final and putting an 8-0 exclamation point on their run to the final.
“It feels amazing,” said Canton senior goalie Mike Staffiere. “I pictured this in my mind when I was a little kid. In 2010, when they won it at the Garden, my Mite ‘A’ team was here to watch the state championship team win this game and it was one of the most special moments of my life.”
When asked about what made this year’s team different than previous Canton squads, including two South finalists, Canton coach Brian Shuman said, “The word that’s used most often to describe them is relentless. They just don’t stop. They work hard, they love each other, they play for each other, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I love it that on the ice all of them are saying one more, one more and that’s how they’ve been all year.”
Staffiere added, “I think we’re just more of a family this year. We’re so close on and off the ice and we’re always together, we’re all brothers, and I think that’s the difference.”
If there was any nervousness in the Canton locker room, the players certainly didn’t show it on the ice. The Bulldogs recorded the fist nine shots of the game, held an 18-5 advantage in shots after the first period, and needed only 43 seconds to get ahead. Johnny Hagan had a wraparound shot saved by Westwood goalie Ben Goodrich and the rebound skipped out to Owen Lehane at the blue line. His wrister snuck inside the post for the early lead.
“We just wanted a good start, we wanted to come out flying, and to come out hard,” said Shuman. “To get a goal in the first period is always a good way to start the game.”
Canton never looked back. Chris Lavoie nearly doubled the lead with a shot from the slot, but Goodrich made a big stop with his shoulder. Staffiere (19 saves) didn’t have much to do in the first but he was forced into a blocker save on a snap shot by Colin Fahey. The Bulldogs made their pressure pay with 3:19 left in the first, Ryan Nolte took his time in the left circle and fired a low shot that squeezed inside the near post.
After dominating play and grabbing a 2-0 lead in the first, Canton put the game away in the second.
Just a minute after the break, Timmy Kelleher blocked a puck at the blue line and then raced into the offensive zone to collect it. He dropped a pass off to Hagan in the slot and the junior took a look up and sniped the top corner on the stick side. Only 23 seconds later, Ryan Colby added a fourth.
The top line of Hagan, Nolte, and Kelleher was controlling the game and Westwood had no answer. With 12:10 left in the second, that trio combined for the fifth of the afternoon. Hagan had the initial shot and the rebound was pushed on goal by Nolte with Kelleher on hand to force it over the line.
Shuman said, “Timmy Kelleher I think played his best game of the season. He’s just a bruising right-wing. He made a great block that led to that goal.”
There was no letting up from the Bulldogs. Lavoie was the lone forechecker but he managed to swipe the puck from the Westwood defender on the right side of the net. The junior center brought it back to the other side and threw a puck in front looking for Tommy Ghostlaw in the crease, but it deflected off a Westwood player and looped into the goal.
Three minutes into the third period, Kelleher again showed the benefit of going to the net, as he followed up a chance by Nolte and knocked in the rebound to make it 7-0. Seven minutes later, Tommy Vaughan got in on the action. Eamon Kelly’s shot was going wide of the net, but it glanced off Vaughan’s skate and snuck in.
Westwood created some chances down the stretch, but Staffiere stood tall to preserve his shutout in the final. “I wanted it so bad,” he said about the shutout. “They had a couple of odd-man rushes but my ‘D’ played well and they helped me out to get that shutout.”
This is Staffiere’s first season in goal, after three years as a backup to Quinn Gibbs, and that has made the title even sweeter. He explained, “I did my time as a backup. I still worked hard every day and it really paid off. It’s amazing, my dreams are coming true.”
Canton (24-0-1) heads to the TD Garden next Sunday and will face either Boston Latin or Tewksbury in the state championship game. It has been an impressive run through the sectional for the Bulldogs, which didn’t allow the disappointment of not being chosen for the Super 8 deter them.
“That’s so far in our rearview mirror,” said Shuman of the Super 8 snub. “Those guys put that past them right away and all they wanted to do is move on and have a moment like this. The best part is that they’re not satisfied and they’re looking forward to that next game and whoever the North sends out.”
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.”
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.”
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.
But it was far from easy.
The unbeaten Bulldogs were put to the test by ninth-seeded and league rival Oliver Ames, with the Tigers consistently applying pressure over the course of 45 minutes. In the end, a patient Canton team cashed in twice inside a one-minute span and, more importantly, didn’t allow Oliver Ames to do the same in a 3-0 victory.
“[Oliver Ames] is a team that always plays us hard, they’ve done so for years,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman. “And they played us hard tonight, they came out flying. They pinned us, they hit us, and I was proud of our guys for battling through that. Every playoff game is like a rollercoaster ride and you have to survive the onslaughts and punch back like we did.”
The Tigers were strong from the opening puck drop, flying all over the ice and coming up with a couple of good goal scoring chances. Just minutes in, senior Matt McCormack made a leaping stop to prevent a Canton clear resulting in a good chance from Cullen Gallagher, but Canton goalie Mike Staffiere (17 saves) made the stop.
Just minutes later, the Tigers had a chance at a two-on-one, but Bulldog defenseman Ryan Sullivan thwarted the chance before a pass or shot could happen. A Canton error in the neutral zone led to a chance for OA senior Brett Williams, but the puck wouldn’t lie flat, and his shot was gobbled up by Staffiere.
As the period went on, Canton started to get more of the play, and Timmy Kelleher’s tough angle shot from the left circle forced a paddle save from OA junior goalie Owen Connor (27 saves), and a rebound chance from Johnny Hagan was denied as well.
With just a minute left in the first, Kelleher won a foot race to get in on goal but his close shot was denied by Connor, bringing a physical, back-and-forth, well-played first period to a close.
“I don’t think we could have played a better game,” said Oliver Ames head coach Sean Bertoni. “We preached effort, effort, effort, and it’s such a simple term, but I’m not sure many teams could do it for three periods like we did against one of the best teams in the state. They did everything I asked so it’s a little frustrating they weren’t rewarded for it, but that’s sports. The effort was there through the whole game, and we had some chances.
“Their effort is what got them here. That was our recipe for success all year. No matter what there are going to be lulls, and you’ll make hockey mistakes, but the effort was always there. I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”
OA had another bright start to the second period with freshman Bryan Kearns forcing a turnover, and Williams linking up with Gallagher in front for a backhand shot that was just over the bar. Five minutes later, Duncan Pereira blasted a shot that was saved by Staffiere into the air, bounced off his back, and just wide of the post.
Similar to the first, Canton was able to handle the strong push from the Tigers early and take control as the period went on. This time, senior Joe Robinson linked up with classmate Ryan Colby to force an odd-man rush, and Oliver Ames was forced to take a penalty.
The first power play of the game resulted in the first goal of the game as well. Just over 30 seconds into the man-advantage, junior Jack Connolly ripped a low shot/pass through traffic that found Canton senior Ryan Nolte positioned perfectly for a tip-in from right in close, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead with 6:57 to go in the second period.
With momentum on their side, the Bulldogs struck again before a minute elapsed. This time, it was senior Matt Martin delivering a shot from the blue line through traffic with junior Chris Lavoie providing the redirect right in front, making it 2-0 with 6:09 left in the second period.
“The second one was huge,” Shuman said. “Both goals came from point shots too. Jack Connolly with a great shot to find Ryan on the back door and then Matty Martin just getting the puck through, which is what we try to do. [OA] does a good job of collapsing in their zone and protecting the middle of the zone so our defense was going to have to get shots through for us to have some offense.”
Oliver Ames nearly cut the deficit in half on a chance with just over a minute to go in the second. Williams skated into the offensive zone, drawing the defenseman but slid a pass across to an open Kearns, but his wrist shot clanked off the crossbar and stayed out.
“You would think it would hurt, but our two themes this year were effort and resiliency,” Bertoni said of the back-to-back goals. “You have to push back after a goal, and I thought we did after the second one. Obviously, it’s a little deflating but the guys didn’t show it, didn’t change how they played. Power plays are going to happen, the puck had eyes and it found one of the best players. Tough to give up the two goals but it didn’t change how we played which was great to see.
“We hit the crossbar late in the second, we had a couple of other chances…we were still buzzing despite not scoring. That was one of our best games all year for three full periods. We didn’t give them much time, we did a good job of taking it away. They did everything we wanted, they were aggressive, they were physical, we just came up short.”
Connor came up with a big stop early in the third, denying Lavoie in front after a nice feed from junior Shane Marshall. Staffiere answered on the other end, stopping a shot from Ryan Gottwald that was set up by a block from Gallagher.
The Tigers got their first power play of the game with 9:55 left in the third, but Lavoie, Connolly, and Nolte all came up with clearances to limit OA’s chances. The lone chance came off the stick of Max Ward, who beat a pair of Canton players as he entered the offensive zone and snapped a wrist shot that was gloved by Staffiere.
Hagan created a turnover for Canton in the offensive zone but was denied by the post, and minutes later, OA’s Williams was turned away when his shot went off of Staffiere’s mask.
In the final seconds, Hagan connected with Kelleher for the empty net goal, the assist giving Hagan his 100th career point.
ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The puck was dug out on the near boards and angled towards Canton defenseman Owen Lehane, who was hanging at the blue line. The junior lined up a slap shot that deflected almost immediately off a North Attleboro stick and knuckled, weaving its way through traffic, past North goalie Ryan Warren and somehow under the bar.
For the second straight game, the Bulldogs had pulled out a win in the closing minutes. Lehane’s goal with just 2:08 remaining in Sunday afternoon’s matinee at the New England Sports Village handed Canton a 3-2 victory and clinched the program’s ninth league title in a row.
“It’s a long season and especially this time of year when you get into the middle of January and guys are sick, guys are hurt, so if you can pull out a win when it’s not your best day it says a lot about a team and it says a lot about our guys,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman, who gave a lot of credit to the Rocketeers for making it tough all game.
He added, “I think they dominated most of the game. They had more puck possession than we did, they had certainly more zone time than us, they had more shot attempts, and they really did outplay us. Even the first period didn’t feel right. We had two goals but they were making it very difficult for us and I didn’t think the score reflected the game.”
North Attleboro coach Ben McManama could only shrug at the way the game ended, as the Rocketeers had gone toe-to-toe with (and at times outplayed) not only one of the Hockomock League’s perennial powers but a team that was just added to the initial watch list for the Super 8.
“We realized something about ourselves today, which is great,” McManama explained. “We wanted the win or even the tie, but we realize that when we move our feet and work hard, then we can hang with anybody. I think it’s a good lesson that we learned today but we just have to keep on going.”
Digging the puck out on the boards to set up the Lehane winner was senior forward Ryan Nolte. It was his second assist of the day, to go along with the one goal he scored, and with his three-point haul on Sunday he reached the 100-point milestone for his career.
“He’s someone that always seems to show up and make big plays in a game like this,” Shuman said of Nolte. “He made little plays that he normally wouldn’t do like throw a big hit in the neutral zone in the middle of the game when we needed that. He was important in all areas of the ice tonight.”
The Rocketeers came out of the gates trying to set a physical tone and looked faster and sharper, but it was the Bulldogs that got the goals. Nolte set up the opener five minutes into the game when he fired a pass from behind the goal line out to Matt Pigeon at the point. The defenseman’s shot was tipped in front by Chris Lavoie, giving Warren (22 saves) no chance.
North almost leveled the score just a minute later when Justin Moccia found himself alone on the edge of the crease. Canton goalie Mike Staffiere (20 saves) managed to scramble and get a piece of the shot and then got a piece of luck when the rebound looped up and landed on the bar before bouncing behind the goal.
Only a minute later and Canton had doubled its lead. Nolte cut across the slot and initially lost control and whiffed on his first attempt, but he stayed with the puck and whipped a backhand on goal. The puck caught Warren trying to slide across and it slipped through the five-hole to make it 2–0.
“Our group’s very good in that they’re very resilient,” said McManama. “Some teams would’ve gone in the tank after the two goals, I mean it’s Canton, but we just kept battling back. Since day one when I got here that’s the team I was trying to bring out. I’m happy with what we did today.”
The game changed in a span of 23 seconds. First a slip on the blue line allowed Dennis Morehouse to steal the puck and find space to rifle a shot from the right circle inside the far post to cut the lead in half. Nine seconds after the goal, North went on the game’s first power play. Fourteen seconds after that, the game was tied.
Brendan McHugh started the offensive set by making a grab at the blue line to keep the puck in the zone. North got a shot on goal and Staffiere made the first stop. The rebound was initially played into the side of the net but Anthony Zammiello kept following the puck and knocked it in.
Lavoie nearly nabbed his second of the game but Warren flashed a quick glove to deny his shot from the left circle. Shane Marshall had a good chance for the Bulldogs as well when he flicked a quick shot from the slot but Warren was just as quick with his pad. Zammiello had a pair of chances, one set up in front by Jack Connolly and the second on a breakaway, but both times Staffiere had the answer.
“We were dumping the puck in and that’s what happens when you play a team physical, stay up in the neutral zone, and close your gaps,” said Shuman about Canton’s struggles to develop consistent attacks. “We had so many opportunities to make that one pass for an odd-man rush and we would just dump the puck in and that’s all credit to their play that got us a little antsy with the puck.”
The first half of the third period was all Rocketeers. North came flying out of the locker room and had the first six shots of the period. Canton didn’t get a puck on net until the 7:40 mark of the third. The best chance fell to Matt McSweeney, who was picked out in front by freshman Nik Kojoian, but Staffiere made a big pad stop to keep the scores level.
Despite all the North pressure, Canton held onto the tie and then got the one moment it needed to keep its perfect start to the season alive.
“I’ve been around hockey for a long time,” McManama said. “It’s no secret that good teams get those good breaks. We also did very well defensively, we worked really hard, they made some big saves, and I thought it was all-around a great hockey game.”
It is the ninth straight league title, and 11th in 12 seasons. No other team has won a Davenport crown in the nine years since the league split into different divisions. It speaks to the level of consistency as a program that the Bulldogs have displayed down the years.
Shuman said, “We talked about how fortunate we are to be competing every year for league championships. It’s a testament to the guys before and to our guys now that they are able to rise to that level every year. We don’t take it for granted.”
Canton (13-0, 9-0) will try to complete a perfect league campaign when it hosts Taunton on Wednesday. North Attleboro (7-6-1, 5-2-1) will try to make history on Wednesday when it travels to Pirelli Veterans Arena to face Kelley-Rex division leader Franklin, which the Rocketeers have never beaten.
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.
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.