CHS boys hockey bows in D2 south semifinalsBy Jay Turner
For the third time in a seven-day span, the Canton High boys varsity ice hockey team poured every ounce of heart, skill and strength that they could muster into a thrilling playoff battle against an equally formidable opponent.
Only this time, the puck bounced the other way as the sixth-seeded Bulldogs dropped an absolute heartbreaker to No. 2 Medway, falling 1-0 in double overtime in Tuesday’s sectional semifinal game at Gallo Arena in Bourne.
The brutal defeat, which came with just seconds left in the second installment of OT, marked an end to yet another memorable winter campaign — one highlighted by countless big-time performances, consistently excellent defense, and the emergence of several new breakout stars. Ranked as one of the top teams in all of Division 2, the Bulldogs won a total of 16 games, captured a seventh consecutive Hockomock title, and advanced to the south sectional “final four” for a fifth straight season — a remarkable accomplishment, yet still a few wins shy of their ultimate goal.
The only team to beat them twice this season was Medway (18-3-3), who will now battle top-seeded Scituate (21-2-1) for a chance to represent the south in the D2 title game at the TD Boston Garden. Many local hockey experts have tabbed Medway as the top team in the division, citing the Mustangs’ 13-0-1 record and 13 goals allowed in their last 14 games.
Medway’s other win against the Bulldogs came at the Canton Ice House back on January 28, also by a 1-0 final score. Although that one ended in regulation, it had a similar feel to Tuesday’s rematch in which the Mustangs capitalized on a late-scoring chance to spoil an otherwise impressive Canton effort.
Just days earlier, it was the Bulldogs that had been on the winning end of a double OT thriller, storming back from a two-goal deficit to knock off No. 3 Bishop Feehan 3-2 at Asiaf Arena in Brockton.
Facing a high-powered top forward line and trailing 2-0 more than halfway through the game, the Canton boys dug deep and somehow managed to regain the momentum, starting with a goal late in the second period by senior captain Jackson Maffeo. Sophomore Ryan Nolte would go on to net the equalizer five minutes into the third period, knocking home a rebound off a shot by CJ Martin.
The two teams traded chances throughout the remainder of regulation and an entire 4 vs. 4 overtime period until Nolte struck again in the second overtime (3 vs. 3) — swooping in for the game-winning score after a cross-ice pass from Johnny Hagan and sending the massive contingent of Canton fans into total delirium.
For Nolte, it was his second consecutive game-winner of the tournament, following his third-period tally last Wednesday in a 1-0 victory over No. 11 Pembroke, and it was the furthest thing from a coincidence, according to head coach Brian Shuman.
“He just thrives on the biggest moments and he wants to be that person,” Shuman said of Nolte. “He wants that puck on his stick and to be the one to lift us to bigger heights. He’s been playing at an exceptionally high level, and as a sophomore seeing his first real action it’s pretty remarkable.”
The other standout performer of the postseason — and really for most of the regular season — was junior goalie Quinn Gibbs, who emerged as one of the area’s top netminders in his very first season as a starter. “Quinn has been a rock for us,” raved Shuman, who has coached several great goaltenders during his time with the Bulldogs. “You look at all of Ryan’s timely goals and Quinn has had just as many timely saves in the opposite end.”
For the tournament, Gibbs allowed just three goals in three games, including a shutout against Pembroke, and was easily one of the team’s MVPs along with Nolte. But there were several other players who also stepped up in key moments, and more importantly, it was the way they played as a team and the collective determination and fearlessness that they showed that most impressed their coach throughout their whirlwind playoff run.
“What I feel best about,” noted Shuman, “is these guys did in the playoffs what I saw them do throughout the season, which was battle back against adversity and not quit when their backs were against the wall. I was really proud of their ability to perform the way they did in the biggest moments of the season.”
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