FRANKLIN, Mass. -- After the game, all the talk was about that one save. Not the hat trick or even the shutout, all the talk was about that one play and how it won Franklin the game.
With a quick lunge to his right, a stretch that a gymnast would envy, and a flick of his glove hand, Panthers junior goalie Devin Maloof ended a perfectly executed 2-on-1 with a save that left Canton attackers Brian Brooks and Pat Ward deflated and the crowd wondering what it just saw.
Early in the game, it would just be a great highlight to remember. But with the score 1-0 and only six minutes remaining, it felt like Canton had missed its last chance. It felt like the game was over.
Less than two minutes later, Franklin captain Cam Curley scored his second goal of the night (he tacked on an empty-netter for his hat trick) to give the Panthers a 3-0 win over their conference rivals in front of a packed house at the Staff Sgt. Robert Pirelli Veterans Memorial Skating Rink.
“The best player on the ice tonight was our goalie. That’s it,” said Franklin head coach Chris Spillane with a telling shrug. “It comes down to the save. All of a sudden everyone is tapping him on the pads and we all believe in ourselves.”
He added, “That’s the game right there. Because if they score right there, then they have all the momentum.”
Canton head coach Brian Shuman, whose team outshot Franklin 23-17 for the game, echoed his counterpart’s sentiments on the importance of that sequence in the third period.
“Their goalie played well," he said. "That post to post save was a game changer. What a great save."
Maloof had to be strong from the start, as the Panthers looked rusty out of the gates. Canton outshot Franklin 8-3 in the opening period with junior forward Ben Lodge having the best chance on a one-timer in the slot. Franklin had three power plays in the opening 15 minutes but could only manage 1 shot on goal, while holding a man advantage.
The defensive nature of the game continued into the second period with Canton having more chances, but not able to find a way past Franklin’s defense and the brick wall of Maloof. With 3:43 remaining in the period, and against the run of play, it was Franklin that opened the scoring.
On a Canton power play, Curley, the senior captain and the Panthers second-leading scorer from last season, took a chance to race forward on a turnover. Fellow captain Mike Patjane hit him with the perfect outlet and Curley was able to finish the breakaway over the blocker of Canton goalie Rich Nee to make it 1-0.
The Bulldogs stepped up the pressure in the third, and were outshooting Franklin 5-1 in the period when a slip at center ice allowed Brooks to start an odd man rush with Ward. After a quick give and go, Brooks slid the puck through the crease to Ward whose shot was snared by Maloof. The goalie quickly held his glove out to the referee as the Bulldogs bench looked on in disbelief.
Shuman admitted that his team will need to be more aggressive and clinical in front of the net going forward.
“Even though territorially we might have had more time in their zone, they did a good job covering the middle and limiting our chances,” he noted. “We’re a team that needs to rely on a lot of guys for goalscoring and some guys had the puck on their stick and they need to bear down and bury it.”
Following the save, Franklin (1-0) started skating a little quicker and with 5:12 left to go, Aidan Isberg played a puck off the boards to enter the zone and flew past his defender. Isberg gathered the puck to the right of Nee and played a perfect pass to Curley for a one-timer that made it 2-0 and effectively put the game away.
While saying that he needs to still work on the defensive end of the game, Spillane praised Curley’s ability to finish his chances.
“We know that he has the capability of scoring and we need to feed him the puck,” said Spillane. “We struggled a little bit getting him the puck tonight, but he also needs to help himself by coming back into the defensive zone to create those scoring opportunities.”
Both coaches spoke about the fact that this was not the typical free-flowing game that has been the hallmark of the series between Franklin and Canton. However for Spillane, the disappointment about the performance was mitigated by the result.
He said, “Not your typical Franklin/Canton game. I just don’t think that either team got off. They weren’t skating hard, the passing was off, and the goal scoring was off. It’s one of those games that you just have to battle through to get the result. It was ugly, but it was a win.”
Canton will take the ice again on Saturday at home against Mansfield, while Franklin will not skate again until December 28th against LaSalle (R.I.) in a tournament in Smithfield, R.I.