BOURNE – Every team in the tournament covets a trip to TD Garden for the state title game, but this year’s path to the bright lights means a bit more for one team in particular.
That team is Canton High girls hockey.
The ninth-seeded Bulldogs defeated No. 5 Natick, 2-1, on Monday to advance to the Division 2 title game against No. 10 Algonquin on Sunday, Mar. 20 (time TBD). Canton was declared co-state champs in 2020 (along with Wellesley) as the title game was canceled a few days before puck drop due to the pandemic. This year’s trip to the Garden will make up for lost time.
“I think it’s really awesome what we did two years ago, but it didn’t really seem tangible. Like, we didn’t really get to experience it. So we kind of used that to fuel the younger girls too, like we never got to go to the Garden,” said senior forward Payton McDonough of the 2020 run. “We really used that as motivation to come out here and hold on for that whole third period. It really means a lot that we get to go now.”
Leading 2-1 with less than a minute to go, Natick camped itself in the Bulldogs’ end and fired one try at the go-ahead goal after another. Junior goaltender Carolyn Durand, with help from her front line, didn’t bend. And with just 8.5 seconds left to play and a face-off to come in the Canton zone, the defensive unit stood tall until time expired.
“Eight seconds is a long time, so it was pure determination. We’ve come this far, we’re not going to end it here,” said McDonough. “We were locking onto the girls, just trying to protect (Carolyn), making sure she could see the puck.”
“You just don’t sell these kids short. They’re really developing into a tight-knight group,” Canton coach Dennis Aldrich said. “We’re going to enjoy this one tonight, and try and breathe a little bit because I don’t know if we took up too much oxygen there in the third. They were very excited. They stuck to it.”
It’s not often a perennial winner suits up in the role of an underdog. But by seeding, Monday’s triumph is the third consecutive “upset’ the Bulldogs have added to their belts this tournament. Canton defeated No. 8 Andover in the Round of 16 before holding Duxbury, the bracket’s top seed, scoreless in a 3-0 victory this past weekend. Coming into play Monday, the edge from upending the No. 1 seed had already worn off.
“We have this 24-hour rule,” McDonough described. “After we play a game, we have 24 hours to be happy about it, be sad about it, and then we move on. (Entering Monday) we were more focused on Natick, the last time we played them (Canton lost 4-1 in the season-opener), what we needed to do better to beat them, and less about Duxbury and how we played in that game.”
Priding themselves on being a stifling defensive team, Canton has scored over four goals in a game just five times this season. While the Bulldogs were 4-1 in those games, the defensive spirit came alive once again after Natick evened the game at 1-1 early in the second period.
“It was definitely a wake-up call. Natick’s a great, aggressive team and we realized that if we didn’t play to our best, we were going to get beat,” junior defenseman Maya Battista said. “We came out flying after that, and now we’re here.”
“Coach calls us a blue-collar team,” added McDonough. “We’re not really flashy, out there scoring a lot of goals. We’re just all making sure we’re all doing our jobs: getting the puck out of the zone, getting the puck in deep and hopefully getting a lot of shots on net.”
Junior forward Audrey Koen got Canton on the board with an unassisted shot right in front midway through the first period and sophomore Anna Lehan put the go-ahead score home with 6:27 to play in the second.
“I’m just really excited for these girls. We had a pretty good team last year too and these seniors were on that team that didn’t get to go to the Garden,” Aldrich said. “We just didn’t know what was going to be in the cards again with the (tournament format) reshuffling.”
“It’ll probably take me a while to get my smile off my face,” said Aldrich. “We’ll have tomorrow off and we’ll make that trip to Causeway Street once again.”
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Canton High girls hockey headed to Division 2 state title game