It was mission accomplished for the Canton High boys hockey team. A potential Super 8 bid not withstanding, the Bulldogs set out this season with a goal of winning a Division 2 title.
The Bulldogs did just that, putting the finishing touches on a memorable season with a 6-2 win over North sectional champ Tewksbury to win the MIAA Boys Division 2 state title at TD Garden.
With Sunday’s win, Canton finished an incredible 25-0-1, including as impressive a playoff run as you will see, outscoring five post-season opponents by a 29-3 margin.
“It was one of those things were it was hard to not know we were going to be good with the guys we had coming back, especially with the quality of players we had,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman, who won his second state title. “Still, you have to think you would drop a couple along the way, have some tough games or not show up. It goes to show how driven this group is. Their goal was to win every single game. And they did.”
A trademark to Canton’s success this winter had been to get up early on teams and this game was no exception. The Bulldogs set the tone with a three-goal burst in the span of 1:55 midway through the first period. A shorthanded goal midway through the second period made it a 4-0 game and although the Redmen stayed the course and closed to within 4-2 in the third, they could not get any closer.
Canton coach Brian Shuman talks about state title win here
Junior Johnny Hagan scored the last three goals for the Bulldogs, while senior Ryan Nolte had a goal and four assists to finish the campaign with 71 points.
“Their first line was the best line we have faced all season,” said Tewksbury coach Derek Doherty. “We had a slow start which hurt us, but we settled down and played better. The shorthanded goal hurt us. But I am proud of my guys. We didn’t stop. We fought to the end.”
Junior Timmy Kelleher got Canton off and running, making it 1-0 with a power play strike at 5:54, sending home a backhander on the rebound of an Owen Lehane shot from the point.
At 7:33, junior defenseman Jimmy Connolly moved in from the right point and buried a low wrist just inside the near post. Then, just 16 seconds later, Nolte scored on a bullet from the slot, assisted by Hagan and defenseman Ronan O’Mahoney.
Canton outshot the Redmen 12-3 in the first period. The North champs got things going in the second period, putting 14 shots on Bulldogs goalie Mike Staffiere, but still trailed by that three-goal margin entering the third period.
Hagan’s first goal, coming shorthanded at 5:35 on a rocket from the slot, made it 4-0. The Redmen (17-5-3) finally got on the board at the 10:31 mark, when Aaron Scott jammed home a puck from the doorstep.
After an interference call on Lehane early in the third, Tewksbury’s Kyle Lombardo tipped home a Campbell Pierce shot to bring the Redmen to within two at 4-2.
But Hagan wouldn’t have it. He took a great feed from Nolte and flipped home a shot by the left post to restore Canton’s lead to 5-2. The Bulldogs junior forward sealed it with an empty-netter with 2:16 to play.
“Credit Tewksbury, they fought back,” Shuman said. “That was not a 6-2 game. There were long stretches they were all over us.”
Prior to the start of the post-season, there was talk about Canton getting a Super 8 play-in bid. When the Bulldogs didn’t, it was no skin of their backs.
“That is so far in the rear view mirror,” Shuman said. “When we shared with them that we didn’t get a bid, they were OK with it. Our goal from day one was to win a Division 2 title. I can’t believe the amount of maturity they showed. It was an honor to be part of the equation, but they didn’t let it discourage them. They were just focused on taking care of business in Division 2.”