Tewksbury’s Connors eyes bigger goals

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Four years removed from arguably his biggest hockey heartbreak, Caden Connors and the Tewksbury boys hockey team are looking for a little payback against Canton. The two teams will square off in a rematch of the 2019 Division 2 State Championship, Sunday, March 20 at TD Garden. The puck drop is slated for 3:15 p.m. Photo by Nicole Goodhue Boyd

Four years removed from arguably their biggest hockey heartbreak, Caden Connors and the Tewksbury boys hockey team are looking for a little payback against a familiar foe in an equally well-known venue.

The senior defenseman and his top-seeded Redmen teammates return to TD Garden Sunday afternoon to faceoff against No. 3 Canton, in a rematch of the 2019 Div. 2 state title game. Puck drop is set for 3:15 p.m.

Connors is one of seven Tewksbury seniors that took the ice against Canton as freshmen, a 6-2 loss on March 17, 2019. It’s only fitting that the two schools renew the rivalry in another legendary battle this weekend.

“When you come in as a freshman, you’re on the varsity and you go to the Garden, you feel like you’ve done it,” said Connors, 18, whose team punched its ticket to the big dance this season after a thrilling 4-3 victory over Duxbury in double overtime on Monday. “But we didn’t win it. This time I’m looking forward to going back and winning it. I don’t really care who we play, but it would definitely be sweeter playing Canton.”

The Div. 2 North champion in 2019, Tewksbury enjoyed a 21-2-0 run this season leading up to the final showdown. Canton is sporting a solid 22-2-1 mark heading into the contest.

A surprising snub from the Super 8 Tourney, Canton embarked on a legendary 24-0-1 run in 2019, outscoring the opposition 23-1 during its postseason push to the finals. In that championship game, the Bulldogs blitzed Tewksbury midway through the first period, scoring three times over a two-minute span. They added a shorthanded tally in the second period, building a comfortable 4-0 cushion, en route to the 6-2 victory.

“We had seven kids that were freshman that played when we lost to Canton,” said Tewksbury coach Derek Doherty, noting that Connors, fellow defensemen Justin Rooney, forwards Jason Cooke, Cole Stone, Aaron Connelly, Sean Lane and Billy Doherty, were also on the team. “It’s kind of been in the back of our minds to get there again. These kids have been working all year long. I’m pretty proud of them.”

So what’s been the secret to Tewksbury’s success this season?

“It’s our chemistry,” said Connors. “We’re a family. We do everything together. We enjoy being at practice every day working together. When a team really likes being with each other you can see it on the ice, no selfishness. We just want to win.”

If Tewksbury learned anything during this year’s run, it’s to take advantage of any and all opportunities, especially when it comes to special teams play.

During their state semifinal rollercoaster ride against Duxbury, Tewksbury had to kill off a five-minute major with 9:09 left in the third period. The Redmen came close to accomplishing the feat before the Dragons netted the tying goal to send the game to overtime.

“It’s very demoralizing taking a penalty and letting them score to tie it up,” said Connors. “If you let them take all the momentum, they’re going to win the game. It’s all about keeping your head up and regaining that energy. (Luckily) they only tied it, the next goal wins.”

The tables quickly turned during the second OT session, however, as the Redmen went on a five-minute power play with 1:37 left in the stanza. Nick Dicioccio netted his second goal for the game-winner with 43.7 second left on the clock.

According to Connors the gameplan was simple: Put the puck in the net.

“We practice our power play a lot,” said Connors. “We practice that scenario, how to set up and how to execute on it.

“We were trying to make too many nice passes instead of putting pucks on net. I think towards the end when you get more tired, when you get that puck, and you have a chance you just shoot it. That’s how Nick was able to put it home.”

The team’s conditioning also played a pivotal role, especially when the game eclipsed the 60-minute mark.

“We skate a lot at practice,” said Connors. “Coach always says when it gets to the playoffs and there’s four minutes left, who’s going to have more legs, us or them? We were tired, but we had a little more energy than they did. That’s how we were able to win those battles to get that puck out there.”

A hockey player since the age of five, Connors picked up the sport while following in his family’s skate marks.

“My older brother played,” said Connors. “When I was younger, I started playing it and I loved it, so I’ve been playing my whole life.”

A four-year letterman, Connors has solidified his status as one of the program’s premier puck-moving defensemen over the past four seasons. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound blueliner netted 21 goals, 27 assists and 48 points this year, while closing in on the 100-point milestone. His career totals currently stand at 34 goals, 59 assists and 93 points.

“I’m somewhere in the 90s,” said Connors, when asked about his point totals. “I would love to get 100 points, but a state championship is what I really want.”

Top-seeded Tewksbury faces off with third-seed Canton in the Div. 2 championship, Sunday at TD Garden. The puck drops at 3:15 p.m.

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