The last time the MIAA boys hockey state championships were played at TD Garden, it was Canton and Tewksbury squaring off for supremacy in Division 2.
Following a two-year hiatus as a result of the pandemic, the state finals are back on Causeway Street. And lo and behold, it will be Tewksbury and Canton facing off again for all the marbles Sunday (3:15 p.m.).
This time, top-seeded Tewksbury will be looking to reverse the fortunes of its last appearance, a 6-2 loss to Canton in that 2019 title game. Meanwhile, the #3 Bulldogs aim to continue a brilliant run of postseason success that included a sectional title in 2020 (they were declared co-champions with Lincoln-Sudbury when the state final was canceled), and four more wins in this tournament to get to this point.
“It’s been in the back of our minds that we want to get there again,” Tewksbury coach Derek Doherty said. “These guys have been working hard all year long and playing tough.”
For Tewksbury (21-2-0), it all starts in the defensive end of the ice. Doherty believes junior Ben O’Keefe (1.31 GAA) is as good as any goalie he has had in his 21 seasons behind the bench.
Moving out from there, the attack is sparked by a pair of dynamic puck-moving blue liners. Senior Caden Connors (21-27-48) was the Dual County/Merrimack Valley 2 Player of the Year, and junior Nick Dicioccio (9-9-18) had two big goals, including the double-OT game-winner to beat Duxbury in the semifinals. Dicioccio’s four postseason goals lead all Redmen players.
“[Connors is] big, he’s strong, he’s got great hands, he sees the ice well, and Dicioccio’s got the same thing,” Doherty said. “They’re two very good defensemen.”
Sophomore Matthew Cooke (17-18-35) has emerged as the team’s top-scoring forward, including a team-best eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) in the postseason. He is followed closely by his older brother, senior Jason Cooke (17-15-32), as well as senior Sean Lane (11-20-31). Sophomore Tyler Barnes (8-13-21), senior Cole Stone (5-12-17), senior Aaron Connelly (8-8-16) and sophomore Jeremy Insogna (8-6-14) all have sparked the Redmen at various points in the season.
While Tewksbury had to grind out its double-OT win over Duxbury to get here, Canton seemingly punched its ticket early by scoring four times in the opening 4:21 of its eventual 6-3 win over #2 Gloucester in the semifinals.
Whereas past Canton teams have featured some high-end talent and a strong cast of role players, this year’s Bulldogs squad has been a true team effort. An amazing 16 different players have reached double-digits in total points, led by sophomore forward Brendan Tourgee and junior forward AJ Thomas.
Senior Sean Connolly is another strong two-way defensemen and one of the few players with experience from that 2019 state final. Connolly and senior Brennen Pecararo each had a pair of goals to spark the semifinal win over Gloucester.
Connolly, Thomas and Pecararo all were Hockomock League All-Stars along with senior Eamon Kelly. Senior Andrew Valkanas and sophomore Brian Middleton have been other key forwards for the Bulldogs, with senior Jay Kelleher another solid defenseman.
Just as important to the Bulldogs has been the brilliant play of freshman Colin Davis (0.82 GAA), who has emerged as the regular in goal over the second half of the season.
Both teams suffered their only blemishes against D1 competition. Tewksbury lost to Marshfield and Wellesley in the Peter Doherty Division of the Ed Burns Coffee Pot Hockey Classic. Canton started the season 0-2-1, falling to Lincoln-Sudbury in overtime and then Hockomock rival Franklin before tying Barnstable. Since then, the Bulldogs rattled off 22 consecutive wins overall – including the Walter Brinn Division championship of the Ed Burns Classic – and have now won 13 straight tournament games dating back to 2019.
“You have to just look at this crew and have so much respect for what they’ve done because they have big shoes to fill,” Canton coach Brian Shuman said.