Canton boys' lax now strives for perfection

CANTON, Mass. -- It was a moment frozen in time. The members of the Canton boys' lacrosse team crouched underneath the scoreboard at Memorial Field for a picture in the late afternoon of last Thursday. Even though the junior varsity game was about to begin, the scoreboard remained unchanged from the previous one. The Bulldogs had just beaten Hockomock League rival Foxborough for the first time since the 2007 season -- in double overtime, nonetheless -- and they were content to savor it.

"This is a banner win for us," head coach Bill Bendell said following the Bulldogs' momentous win, their first against the Warriors in 12 tries . "In 2008, we lost a couple of one-goal games to them, but since then it hasn't been close."

He isn't kidding, too. The memories of some of the absolute drubbings Foxborough doled out against Canton remain fresh. Canton's seniors had registered an oh-fer in six games against the Warriors entering last week. The average margin of victory in those Foxborough games was more than nine goals per. "Pretty slaughtered" was how senior attack Pat Ward described the previous encounters.

But even after a psyche-shifting victory the Bulldogs have kept rolling. After Wednesday's 10-5 win over King Philip, Canton improved to 9-0. It's the longest such unbeaten streak in program history and, as a result -- for a program which has enjoyed just one winning season in its last eight -- the Bulldogs are rapidly approaching their record for wins in a season this millennium (12, in 2011).

“We haven’t won the league or anything, and there’s a long road ahead of us," said senior Kurt Leavitt, who scored the overtime game-winner against Foxborough, "but it’s definitely something to build off.”

It's been a steady build for the Bulldogs, and it hasn't come easy.

Bendell was tasked with finding a new starting goaltender for this year. With no apparent candidates to fill the role, he turned to then sophomore attackman Ben Lodge. It happened nearly by accident. Lodge was horsing around during a summer lacrosse camp when Bendell had the inkling for a radical idea -- this kid might actually be the solution. It turned out to be a stroke of genius. Through the nine-game winning streak, Lodge and the Bulldogs defense has allowed just shy of six goals a game.

To his credit, Lodge has done it at less than 100 percent as well. After suffering a knee injury, which may require offseason surgery, he's forced to play the position with a bulky knee brace.

"He's been clutch," Bendell said. "He's been lights-out. He's been a little dinged up, but he's a tough kid."

Aside from the on-field success, Bendell talked about importance of changing the perception of the program within the school community. He pointed to senior defensive midfielder Dexter Green as a prime example. The All-League football player hardly had ever picked up a stick before some of his friends on the team persuaded the hard-hitting, physical defender to try lacrosse.

Bendell believes that converts such as Green are the key to perpetuating the success his team has experienced this season. He credited his senior core for having toughed it out during some rough stretches in recent years.

We just kept thinking that, if they stick together, stick with us and they persevere, we could get somewhere," Bendell said.

He continued, "It's part of the culture change in that kids want to play lacrosse. Hopefully, this will help us build this program long-term, in that the kids will motivated to join and want to be a part of it."

While the Bulldogs entered the season with best intentions, their early season success has even caught them by surprise. "We didn't expect that we'd be undefeated right now," Ward said following the win over Foxborough. It hasn't come without complications either, as Canton has played three overtime games, including back-to-back, double-overtime epics against Sharon and then Foxborough. Even in their historic win against the Warriors, Canton had to erase a two-goal deficit in the final two minutes of regulation to tie it.

“I think winning this can give the boys a new mentality," Ward said of the team's resiliency. "With any team that we play, any team in Division 3, if we play our game, and we’ve had a couple of close ones, but if we play our game, we can hang.”

There remains a strong possibility the Bulldogs will remain undefeated in Hockomock League play heading into their May 15 rematch with their nemesis. Then, the Bulldogs will carry a different kind of burden -- no longer the wanting of knocking off the league power from their perch, but rather defending their newfound pole position.

"We know they’re going to be ready to go again come the second game," Ward said.