Memorable upset propels lady Bulldogs to D2 quarters

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With back-to-back tournament victories in the past week, including last Saturday’s massive upset of No. 3 Shrewsbury at the Northstar Ice Arena in Westborough, the 14th-seeded CHS girls ice hockey team now finds itself just two wins away from a trip to the TD Garden and a shot at the Division 2 state title.

It’s a position that, quite frankly, should not be all that surprising — not for a team as battle-tested or as red-hot as the lady Bulldogs, who played an unforgiving regular season slate and have lost exactly once since the middle of January (10-1-5).

Sophomore Katie Trerice (Mike Barucci photo)

Sophomore Katie Trerice (Mike Barucci photo)

But before the Canton girls can dream the biggest dream, they will first have to survive a date with Winchester, arguably their greatest playoff nemesis of the past decade. The always formidable Sachems, seeded No. 11 this year, sent Canton packing in each of the last two postseasons, and they have been inflicting pain on the Bulldog program as far back as 2010, when an upstart Winchester team shocked a then top-seeded, 15-win CHS squad in the opening round of the tournament.

However, despite their recent and past history with this particular opponent, head coach Dennis Aldrich still likes their chances when the two teams face off again this Saturday evening at the Gallo Arena in Bourne.

“We’re certainly grateful to have the opportunity, one, to keep playing, and two, to have another shot at [Winchester],” said Aldrich. “I really think we’re more alike than different. We’re both blue-collar teams, and it’s going to be a heck of a game Saturday night I think.”

Win or lose, Aldrich said he is certain that the girls will go in prepared and will give it their absolute best — two of the hallmarks of a group that he also recently described as the “toughest team [he] has ever coached.”

“There’s just no panic in this team,” he said of the Bulldogs. “We work very hard in practice on our conditioning to be around in third periods, and you saw that in the Shrewsbury game on Saturday.”

Indeed, while they struggled in the opening period and found themselves down 1-0 on the road against a central Mass. powerhouse, the Canton girls never lost their poise or focus. Instead, they got stronger as the game went on, aided by stellar defensive performances from Katie Trerice and shut-down goalkeeper Colleen Kelleher.

Kelleher, a captain and a three-time league all-star, was her usual brilliant self as she stopped 31 of 32 shots, with the lone goal coming off the stick of Shrewsbury’s superstar forward Delaney Couture early in the first period. Trerice, meanwhile, handled most of the defensive duties on Couture and kept the explosive sophomore in check for the remainder of the contest.

“Katie had her stick on [Couture] all night long and made some really big plays,” Aldrich said of his top blueliner. “She was the equalizing factor with arguably the best forward we have faced all year.”

Offensively, Canton’s second line led the way as Lauren Fitzpatrick and Andrea McNeil each tallied a goal and an assist to lead the comeback effort. Fitzpatrick, who lit up Norwell for a hat trick in the opening round of the tournament a few days prior, scored early in the third period to tie the game at 1-1. Then, with only two minutes remaining in regulation, McNeil came through with what has to be the goal of the season — redirecting a perfectly timed pass from Kendra Farrelly through her own legs and right through the five-hole of the Shrewsbury netminder as the Canton bench erupted in celebration.

A defensive-minded, heady player, McNeil had scored just two goals on the season going into the game, but she parked herself in front of the net with the season on the line and was in perfect position to tip in the pass. “She was taking whatever beating she had to take to help the team,” said a proud Aldrich after the game.

Aldrich said it was one of several game-changing moments in a contest filled with them. Another came in the second period with Shrewsbury on a two-man advantage. Believing that a 2-0 deficit at that stage could have been insurmountable, the Canton coach called a timeout right after the second penalty and the Bulldogs killed off the 5-on-3 to perfection — all 55 nerve-wracking seconds of it.

“It was just a great game overall,” said Aldrich. “It was a really, really good high school hockey game.”

As for the 4-1 win over Norwell in the preliminary round, it was as thorough a beating as the score suggested with the Bulldogs outshooting the No. 19 Clippers 35-16. Fitzpatrick (3g) was sensational in the home victory while her fellow all-star classmate, Maggie Malloy, rounded out the scoring.

Aldrich said the result was never in question and he was happy to kick off the postseason with a convincing performance. “We wanted to play a clean game and we did that,” he said. “It was nice to kick things off with somewhat of a comfortable win.”

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