Bulldogs Seal South Title With Dominant Performance

Canton boys hockey
Canton boys hockey celebrates with its D2 South championship trophy. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

Relentless Bulldogs Put Six Past Norwood in Semifinal

Canton boys hockey Ryan Nolte
Canton senior Ryan Nolte attacks the goal against Norwood in the D2 South Semifinal. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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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.”

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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.”

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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.