BOURNE — For closing in on the past decade now, the Canton boys hockey program has been a model of excellence in Massachusetts. After years of semifinal and final appearances in the old Division 2 South sectional format, the Bulldogs finally broke through with consecutive state championships in 2018-19 and 19-20, and in the first year of the statewide tournaments last winter, they were the Division 2 runner-up.
So Newburyport was fully aware of the challenge at hand.
The No. 6-seeded Clippers made the two-hour trip down to the Cape for the Division 2 quarterfinals Wednesday night at Gallo Arena, and for 45 minutes skated shoulder-to-shoulder with perennially one of the best teams in the entire state. In the end, however, the Bulldogs’ quest for a return trip to the state tite continued, while the Clippers saw their great season come to an end with a 2-0 loss.
“They’re one of the best teams in the state, and they have been for the past 5-6-7 years,” said Newburyport coach Paul Yameen. “I’d argue with anybody that that team there probably has the best winning percentage in all of high school hockey the past five years. They’re good, they’re physical, they’re well-coached, their coaching staff is as good as they come. It’s always a challenge playing them, and we just came up a little short tonight.”
Wednesday’s quarterfinal was a rematch of a game played back in mid-January that Canton (20-4-0) also won, 3-0. So through six total periods of hockey this winter, the Bulldogs were able to keep a potent Newburyport offense scoreless.
But the Clippers (11-10-3) certainly had their chances.
In what was a fairly even game overall, Charlie Forrest and Jackson DeVivo nearly got Newburyport on the board in the first period with clean looks that were snagged by Canton goalie Colin Davis, and Zach McHugh fired a rocket that just went over the crossbar. Facing big, physical forwards, defensemen Max Puleo, Ryan Philbin, Cam Caponigro and Caden Eiserman were strong and played excellent in front of All-Star goalie Jamie Brooks, who made a couple of nice stops to keep it a scoreless game at the opening intermission.
To start the second, though, Canton turned up the pressure.
Brooks opened the period by making a quick kick save followed by a pad save on a bullet from the blue line, but three minutes into the frame Newburyport went to the box for an elbow. Canton would take advantage of the power play, with defenseman Matt Anderson firing a shot towards the front of the net that teammate Colin Blake perfectly deflected in to make it 1-0.
Then late in the period, the Clippers were on the wrong end of some “puck luck.”
Puleo, a senior captain, made a great hustle play to dive in front of a dangerous shot near the front of the net, but the puck took a fortuitous bounce directly to Canton’s Jeffrey Chaput. The senior basically had an open net to tap it home, and the Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead with just under two minutes left in the period.
“It was a bounce that we didn’t get,” said Yameen. “Max blocks it, it goes right to one of their guys and he bangs it in. But you’ve got to give those guys credit. They know how to win, and they’ve been doing it for a long time.”
Needing to find two goals in the third, the Clippers hurt themselves by taking a penalty at the start of the period. McHugh, Braedan Curran and Kane Brennan tried to make something happen offensively over the final 15 minutes, but for the most part the Bulldogs didn’t let Davis see anything too dangerous.
On the other side, Brooks (32 saves) did everything to keep the Clippers in it.
The senior stalwart, statistically, is one of the best goalies to ever throw on a Newburyport sweater, and ended his career with one last gem.
“He was outstanding,” said Yameen. “I just told him that he’s one of the best goalies we’ve ever had. So, I feel bad for those seniors. They pushed, and it’s reality now that it’s over for those guys. That’s one of the worst things about coaching is seeing it end. But they’ll always be a part of our program, and they’ll always be welcomed back to the program.
“I’m just proud to be a Clipper today.”
Canton 2, Newburyport 0
Newburyport (11-10-3): 0 0 0 — 0
Canton (20-4): 0 2 0 — 2
Division 2 Quarterfinals
Goals: Colin Blake, Jeffrey Chaput
Assists: Brendan Tourgee 2, Matt Anderson, Leo Owens
Saves: N — Jamie Brooks 32; C — Colin Davis 19
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