Although, the Canton High School team had already clinched a Division-2 South Sectional State Tournament berth, the Hockomock League Cup Classic Crown and a Davenport (small schools) Division Title, the Bulldogs still felt that they needed a win in their last regular season game, hosting Melrose at Friday afternoon.
A balanced offensive effort by Canton led to a 7-4 victory over the Red Raiders, from the tough Middlesex League. With the victory, Canton enters the post-season with a 15-3-2 overall record, gains at least a #2 seed, and continues to ride momentum into March Madness.
“This game was still important for us because we needed to keep playing well and get everyone involved (six different goal scorers),” said Canton Coach Brian Shuman. "Our team has a lot of character with 12 freshman and sophomores and only four seniors, and we work hard and we continue to get better and better and we’re ready to defend our State Championship.”
Canton entered the season with the loss of 13 seniors and leading scorer Kevin Rooney leaving for Prep School.
“No one gave us a chance, saying that it would be a down year for us, but we thrive on that and we let others do the talking,” said Shuman. “This season was a test of character for our players and they passed every test and we are where we want to be entering the (post-season) Tournament."
Melrose3 (5-14-1) qualified for the post-season, a year ago, and entered this season with a lot of promise, but a rash of injuries and a slow start sidetracked its season.
“We had injuries and we could never rebound after a slow start,” said Melrose Coach Jason Shipulski. “It was a disappointing season, but we have just three seniors and we’re looking forward to next season and we will return a strong and more experienced team.”
Canton did hit a bump in the road, a couple of weeks ago, with a 0-2-1 non-league stretch, but bounced back with a big win over , in a battle of first place teams for the inaugural Hockomock Cup. Thursday night, the Bulldogs got a hard-fought 1-0 win at North Quincy and then had a short turnaround to face Melrose. The little time between games wasn’t a factor for canton as it utilized its depth to wear down the Red Raiders.
Canton got off to a quick start, outshooting Melrose, 17-3, (36-18 for the game) in the first period, but only came out with a 3-2 lead. Sophomore Mike Denehy got the scoring started, only 3:34 into the game, scoring with an assist from freshman Brian Brooks. Melrose tied it, with a goal from sophomore Cam McGuire. Canton would retake the lead on its first of three power play goals (three of five on the power play). Pat Ward, a sophomore, shot the puck from the point that found its way into the back of the net.
Melrose came back to tie the game, again, on a great individual end-to-end rush from junior Blaise Healy, with just over a minute left in the opening period. Canton would gain the lead, once again, and never relinquish it, scoring as the buzzer went off to end the period. Senior captain Greg Boyd came untouched from behind the net to put the puck past Melrose junior goaltender Kevin Marshall, and give the Bulldogs a 3-2 advantage entering the middle period.
Canton scored the lone goal of the second period, just 1:22 into the period, as Brooks converted a nice pass from junior Matt Malloy.
Both teams would use two goaltenders in the game, as Marshall was replaced in the Melrose net, after Brooks scored, by junior goalie Ryan Fay. For Canton, usual starting goaltender sophomore Rich Nee was rested. Nick Naples, a junior, played the first period and junior Kyle Baker played the final two periods in between the pipes.
Canton would put the game away, scoring the first three goals of the third period, to take a 7-2 advantage. Leading scorer, sophomore Nick O’Connor scored a power play goal, just 59 seconds into the period, with assists from Ward and sophomore Kurt Leavitt. The Bulldogs scored another power play goal, just two minutes later, when Leavitt added an unassisted tally. Just over two minutes more elapsed, when the Bulldogs got a goal from Denehy (two goals) on a break away with an assist from sophomore Justin Rudy.
Melrose added two late goals from juniors CJ Hanson and Howie Clougherty to account for the final score.
Canton now awaits Sunday’s announcement to discover its seeding and first-round opponent in the post-season, as the Bulldogs try to defend their Division-2 State Title.
Melrose 2 0 2 - 4
Canton 3 1 3 – 7
1ST: C-Mike Denehy from Brian Brooks at 3:24
M-Cam McGuire from John Bothelo at 9:07
C-Pat Ward (Unassisted) at 10:53 (Power Play)
M-Blaise Healy (Unassisted) at 13:56 (Power Play)
C-Greg Boyd (Unassisted) at 14:59
2ND: C-Brian Brooks from Matt Malloy at 1:22
3RD: C-Nick O’Connor from Pat Ward and Kurt Leavitt at 0:59 (Power Play)
C-Kurt Leavitt (Unassisted) at 2:57 (Power Play)
C- Mike Denehy from Justin Rudy at 5:05
M-CJ Hanson from Blaise Healy at 5:46
M-Howie Clougherty (Unassisted) at 7:14