A hockey rivalry renewed – Lowell Sun


Tewksbury’s Matt Cooke skates past Chelmsford’s George Haywood (8) and Sean Stackpole during a 2021 game.. Cooke is one of Tewksbury’s top offensive weapons this season. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

Since day one of tryouts, the Tewksbury Memorial High School boys hockey team has had their eyes set on reaching the state championship game.

Since that unfortunate day in March of 2020 when the Canton hockey players were told that they couldn’t play in the state finals due to the due to COVID-19 outbreak, and instead were crowned co-champions, a year after beating Tewksbury in 2019, the Bulldogs had the same goal: Get back to the Garden.

On Sunday, these two teams will meet again at TD Garden to determine which will skate away with the Division 2 state championship trophy. Puck drop is set for 3:15 p.m.

Back in 2019, Canton jumped out to an early lead and went on to defeat the Redmen, 6-2. Tewksbury’s team was really young at the time, and certainly exceeded expectations of reaching the final, whereas Canton was absolutely loaded, finishing their season off unbeaten, becoming one of just five teams to pull that off in state history.

This time, Tewksbury comes in as the No. 1 seed and more of an experienced team. Canton, the No. 3 seed, started off 0-2-1 and now have won 20 games in a row. Certainly this match-up, on paper anyway, should be a dandy.

“We have seven kids who were freshmen and played on the team that lost in the Garden (back in 2019) when we lost to Canton, so it’s been kind of in the back of our minds that we want to get there again,” said Redmen head coach Derek Doherty. “These guys have been working hard all year long and have been playing tough.”

Of the seven players, who were on that 2019 team, three of them are among Tewksbury’s top scorers this season. Defenseman Caden Connors has 21 goals and 27 assists, while, sophomore Matt Cooke (17-18-35) has been immense this year, especially during the post-season. His brother Jason Cooke (17-15-32) and fellow senior Sean Lane (11-20-31) have also enjoyed big seasons. Goalie Ben O’Keefe has been tremendous in the net with a 1.31 GAA and in front of him, Connors, Nick DiCioccio and Justin Rooney have been especially strong in the blue line.

Canton head coach Brian Shulman said that his team is thrilled to be back in the final, but knows it will have an extremely tough opponent.

“Obviously, we are excited to be competing for a state championship in the Boston Garden,” said Shulman. “It’s incredibly difficult to make it to a championship game at any level, so we are looking forward to Sunday. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Tewksbury as a team and as a program. Every single year, Tewksbury is one of the best teams in the state in any division, and that was especially clear in this 2021-22 season. This will certainly be a great game between two towns with proud hockey traditions. We are looking forward to it.”

Canton will enter the game with a 22-2-1 record and have outscored opponents 113-33. In the tournament, they have wins over No. 30 seed Plymouth South (3-0), No. 14 seed Plymouth North (4-1), No. 6 seed Walpole (3-2 in OT) and No. 2 Gloucester (6-3). In that victory they scored four goals in the first five minutes and were up 6-0 at one point.

Offensively, the Bulldogs have been led by Brendan Tourgee (11-10-21), AJ Thomas (15-6-21) and Brennan Pecararo (5-15-20). The team has used three goalies this season, but Colin Davis has seen the most action, posting an 0.82 GAA in 11 games.

“Canton’s a very solid team. They are very disciplined and play good defense,” said Doherty. “They are very well coached. They started the season slow, but have established  themselves as one of the top teams in the state.”

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