Back at TD Garden for the third time in five seasons skating for a state title, complacency was not an issue for the Canton boys’ hockey team.
The Bulldogs were denied in 2022 by Tewksbury. That was motivation. So too is continuing to play on for Kieran Whall, a 3-year-old in town battling leukemia. That was inspiration.
Down 1-0 in the first period, third-seeded Canton charged back with four unanswered goals to secure the program’s fourth championship with a 4-1 win over No. 8 Hopkinton in the Division 2 championship Sunday afternoon.
“I’m happy to win it for everyone back home,” said senior captain AJ Thomas, who finished off the win with an empty-netter in the final minute for the Bulldogs (22-4). “We just think about who we’re doing this for.”
Canton won its first outright title since going unbeaten in 2019, adding to banners in 2010 and 2020 (co-champions due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
“We go into every season and everyone’s doubting us because we were there last year,” said senior Jack Digirolamo, the team’s leading scorer with eight goals and 20 assists. “We graduated a lot of kids, but the underclassmen really stepped up this year and brought it. Everyone contributed every single day.”
The Hillers (21-4) led until the final two minutes of the second period on the 40th goal of the season by senior Pavit Mehra just 3:24 into regulation. But their edge evaporated on strikes from senior captain Brendan Tourgee at 13:12 and the eventual winner from junior Brian Middleton at 14:27 of the middle frame.
Canton coach Brian Shuman noted that playing in close games was nothing new for the Bulldogs, who also came from behind in the state semifinals vs. Duxbury.
“We’re just used to playing tight games and credit to our guys, they were saying the same things we said in the last round: ‘We’re fine, we’re fine,’ ” said the 18-year coach. “That’s not coming from the coaches; that’s coming from them.”
Senior Jeffrey Chaput scored at 12:05 of the third period to fully wrest control for the Bulldogs before Thomas — who also had an empty-netter against Duxbury — put the latest championship on ice for Canton. Senior blue liner James Young dished three assists.
“They put a lot of pressure on themselves,” Shuman said. “They come from a town where they’ve been in the stands watching some kids older than them on the ice raising the trophy. That’s their dream.”
Sophomore Colin Davis made 18 saves for Canton, while the Hillers fell to 0-2 in state finals.
“We didn’t get the result we were hoping for, but I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” said Hopkinton senior Jack Lang, whose second-period snapping glove save headlined a 33-save performance. “Really grateful for my teammates, my coaches, the fans, and our town.”
Canton 4, Hopkinton 1
at TD Garden, Boston
Hopkinton (20-5) 1 0 0 — 1
Canton (22-4) 0 2 2 — 4
1, H, Pavit Mehra (Cam McPherson, Drew Morse) 11:36. 2, C, Brendan Tourgee (James Young) 1:48. 3, C, Brian Middleton (Jack Digirolamo, James Young) :34. 4, C, Jeffrey Chaput (AJ Thomas, James Young) 2:55. 5, C, AJ Thomas :26 (en).
Saves: H, Jack Lang, 33; C, Colin Davis, 18.
Correspondent Lenny Rowe contributed to this story.