Lady Bulldogs’ storybook run ends in D2 title gameBy Jay Turner
One of the greatest single seasons in the history of Canton hockey ended in defeat on the TD Garden ice on Sunday as the 14th seeded lady Bulldogs fell to the top-ranked, defending champion Notre Dame Academy Cougars 5-2 in the Division 2 MIAA girls state finals.
While it certainly wasn’t the ending they had envisioned — not after the way they had played for the better part of two months and especially throughout the postseason tournament — the Canton girls still had to be pleased with the way they hung in there for two-plus periods against an absolute juggernaut of an NDA team that went three lines deep and never lost a game all season (22-0-1).
For the Bulldogs, Sunday’s championship-game defeat was just their second loss in their last 19 games as Canton ended the season on a 12-2-5 run and finished at 14-5-6 overall. They also cracked the Boston Globe Top 20 for the first time all season and finished No. 4 in the MassHShockey.com rankings, although head coach Dennis Aldrich strongly believes that they were the “best public school team” in the 29-team bracket and the best team from “one town and one zip code.”
And while not taking away from the collection of talent assembled by Notre Dame coach Jean Yves-Roy — an Olympic medalist and former Boston Bruin — Aldrich stated emphatically that he “wouldn’t trade [his] team for [Yves-Roy’s] team for even one day.”
Instead, the Canton coach said he’d much prefer to go to battle with the gritty, blue-collar Bulldogs, led by senior captains Rebecca and Kristen Eckler and junior captain and standout goaltender Colleen Kelleher.
Kelleher, a three-time SEMGHL All-Star selection, was hands-down the team’s most valuable player this year, and despite enduring a few bad breaks and allowing a season-high five goals on Sunday, Aldrich said they wouldn’t have even gotten close to the Garden if it weren’t for their netminder’s game-in and game-out brilliance.
“That was only the second game this year that we allowed more than two goals and we’re very proud of that,” Aldrich said. “I honestly feel that if it wasn’t for Colleen Kelleher, we would not even be in the tournament let alone in the finals.”
Even in the title game, Kelleher and company managed to keep the Cougars at bay for the first two periods, and when Andrea McNeil knocked home the rebound off a Kendra Farrelly shot early in the final frame to make it 1-1, the Bulldogs thought they were in great position to pull off the upset.
But the tides turned literally seconds later — right after the ensuing faceoff — when NDA freshman phenom Katherine Pyne dug out the puck in front of Kelleher and snuck it in for the 2-1 lead. Aldrich said it was a “tremendous amount of puck luck” for the Cougars, and while Canton had its own fortuitous goal that went right through the goalie’s legs on a shot by Lauren Fitzpatrick, Pyne would go on to score two more in the period while linemate Skylar Irving added her second to put the game completely out of reach.
“When we tied it in the third after Andrea’s goal, everything seemed like it was going according to plan,” said Aldrich. “Then we looked up a couple minutes later and we were down by two. But that’s their offense; it can happen so quickly.”
Despite their third period struggles, Aldrich thought the Canton defensemen, particularly Katie Trerice and Leah McClellan, held up as well as could be expected against the vaunted NDA forwards, and on the offensive end, he thought that McNeil and Farrelly both had very solid games — and a very solid tournament for that matter.
Farrelly also accounted for the team’s lone goal in their state semifinal win over Westwood a few days prior — a huge victory that ended with the Canton girls returning home behind a police and fire escort.
In that game, the Bulldogs totally controlled the play throughout the first two periods, and they went on to seal the win in the third frame with some big penalty kills and excellent goaltending by Kelleher.
With most of the team’s top players expected back next season, Aldrich said the girls could be even better in 2018, although none of it would have been possible without this year’s seniors, from two-time all-star Rebecca Eckler to reserve goaltender Kathryn Doody.
“Four years ago, we were 3-16-1 in our first year in the [SEMGHL] Coastal, but we had a vision and we wanted to play hard competition,” said Aldrich. “We did that and now look at it three years later — playing in the Boston Garden and having half the town of Canton cheering there for us.”
“These seniors really helped mold this program,” he added. “They saw us at our lowest and brought us to our highest. What a ride these girls have been on.”
See this week’s Canton Citizen for extensive photo coverage of the state championship game at the TD Garden. Photos courtesy of Michael Tureski and Mark Stoughton
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