AS SEEN ON: https://www.patriotledger.com/sports/20200402/hs-boys-hockey-canton-still-searching-for-closure
On March 12, the Canton High boys hockey team laced up the skates at Canton Ice House for one of their final practices before the Division 2 state championship game. The Bulldogs, losers of just a single game over the last two seasons, had revenge on their minds.
Canton was just a few days away from a highly anticipated TD Garden date with Lincoln-Sudbury, the lone team to outduel the Bulldogs in an astonishing 51 combined games over the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
Canton’s talented group of seniors never took the ice again.
At the tail end of practice that Thursday evening, Canton athletic director Danny Erickson got together with boys coach Brian Shuman and girls hockey coach Dennis Aldrich to deliver the bad news — amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic, the MIAA was canceling the rest of the winter sports season and declaring all state finalists in both hockey (the Canton girls were in their Div. 2 state championship game, too) and basketball to be co-champs of their respective divisions.
The boys players could see Erickson talking to Shuman and they knew what was happening by the sad look on their coach’s face.
Shuman broke the news to the team after what he called their most “competitive practice of the year” getting ready for the Warriors.
“I’ve talked to teams after losing in overtime in the playoffs, I’ve talked to teams after some heartbreaking losses of people in the community,” said Shuman. “This is like nothing I’ve ever had to do before. And they took it as expected. They took it very, very hard.”
More than 10 days after getting the news, the Canton players were still devastated that they did not get a chance at revenge. Senior captain Tommy Ghostlaw was hurt the first time the Bulldogs played Lincoln-Sudbury — a 6-4 L-S win at the Ice House on Feb. 12 that snapped Canton’s 43-game unbeaten streak (40-0-3) — and desperately wanted to make a difference in the rematch.
“Just watching it all unfold, it stung to watch, but we were hoping” we would see them again, said Ghostlaw. “Some guys in the (handshake) line were saying, ‘We’ll see you later, we’ll see you later,’ like at the Garden. And it all came true. Our whole team was so hyped up to play them. We were ready to go. Obviously, it didn’t work out with all this stuff going on. But we really wanted that game and we were hoping to see them back at the Garden.”
“Everyone was just shocked and couldn’t breathe,” senior Chris Lavoie, the team’s leading goal scorer, said of his reaction to the state final being scrapped. “We didn’t think it was real. It was crazy.”
“I think obviously everyone was devastated when they told us we couldn’t play,” senior captain Timmy Kelleher said. “Obviously, we were sad because the season ended, but (it also stung) not being able to prove that we were the best team again, prove it further in that game.”
Despite the disappointment for several of the Bulldogs players, they agreed that the decision was the right one to make.
“I think at the end of the day, you know, people’s safety is a priority in everything,” said Kelleher. “But I think just every game you’ve got to play like it is your last. Because every game could really be (your last).”
“One of the things a coach says, I guess, is control what you can control,” senior defenseman Owen Lehane noted. “And we really can’t control the spread of the virus going around right now. We could just control how we played, how we prepared for the game.”
In the future, Shuman hopes that his team will be able to look past this and remember the memories they did share. This year, the 2010 state championship team had a reunion party. He said the party was all about the memories they had during the season, the practices, the locker room, the team dinners, rather than the final game against Newburyport.
He said his current group of devastated players will soon come to the realization that the memories are what high school sports are all about. Ghostlaw is already getting a sense of what Shuman hopes all of his players will feel in the future.
“Just (realizing) that not everything can go your way sometimes,” Ghostlaw said about what he learned from the game being canceled. “Even though bad things happen, you just have to realize that, looking back in the past couple years, playing hockey with these guys has been the best time of my life. It’s not all about playing, it is about team dinners, spending time with your friends and just having an absolute blast being with them every day.”
Weeks later, the cancellation of the state final remains a tough pill to swallow for Canton. Even Shuman acknowledged that it is tough to miss out on the normal closure — either the acceptance of a tough loss, or the joy of celebrating on the Garden ice as champions.
“When you put that much intensity and that much emotion and that much passion into an entire season,” said Shuman, “to have it end abruptly without really any control at all is difficult. It really is.”
Matt Cunha can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @CunhaMatthew