It's one thing to shake a monkey off your back. It's another to grab it by the scruff of its neck and toss it away.
That's what the Franklin High girls' hockey team did by shutting out visiting Canton, 3-0, on Saturday.
For the better part of a decade, it has been Canton, and then everyone else. Over the past 10 seasons, the Bulldogs are 50-7-1, with three state titles.
"I knew it was going to be a dogfight. I just wanted to keep it close," said Margie Burke, in her second year as Franklin's coach.
Burke was not overly confident, but she knew her team had a chance. Once the puck dropped, however, the Panthers didn't need luck - they created their own opportunities.
Not only did they pepper Canton netminder Arielle Spadea with shots, they silenced star forward Brittany Lyons (157 goals in her first three high school seasons), making her night miserable by pouncing on her as soon as she got the puck.
Up 2-0 entering the third period, the Panthers secured the win when junior Melissa Coughlin made the play of the night. As Franklin killed off a five-on-three disadvantage after two penalties, Coughlin blocked a Lyons shot, collected the puck, skated down the wing, and fooled Spadea for a short handed marker.
Coughlin's tally ensured that Franklin would not suffer the same fate as it did last January, when the Panthers had a two-goal lead on Canton going into the final frame and lost, 5-2.
"That was huge," Burke said of Coughlin's play. "She was out on the ice for, like, six minutes, broke up the play against their number one player, then skated down and clinched the game for us."
It was the biggest win ever for a program in its fourth varsity season after three years as a club. For Burke, it was hard to not sound cliched.
"You hear all that corny stuff on TV" when a team "wins the Super Bowl and whatever, but it's just phenomenal," she said. "We've never done it."
Franklin is making a splash as the Panthers try to separate themselves from a tight pack in the middle of the Southeastern Mass. Conference.
Senior Erin Burke, the coach's daughter, scored four goals in a 7-0 win over upstart Medfield. Her sister, Kailyn, the team's backup netminder, collected the shutout in her first varsity start. Junior Rachel Porter potted four goals in a 6-0 win over Dual County League power Boston Latin. The defense is anchored by Maura Teehan and standout junior goalie Taylor Weaver, who has two shutouts in three games on the year. All four are returning league all-stars. Freshman Katrina Corriveau is a dominating presence on the blue line as well.
They have carried the Panthers to some huge wins this season, and their coach is most excited for the players who have seen the program grow.
"Our seniors, and our juniors, the girls that have been playing hard for us for three or four years," she said. "I know for my daughter, this game is going to define her high school hockey" career.
At least until the Panthers find themselves playing for some hardware a few months from now.
Since taking over as the Flyers' coach eight years ago, Spear has put his squad through the wringer. This year, Framingham opened with CM, squared off with Arlington on Monday night, and plays BC High and Hingham in the first month of the season.
"When I started playing these teams, the kids were really not in favor of it," he said. "A lot of parents were really angry with me. We got routed a few times."
But the Flyers have seen success - they lost to Duxbury, 2-1, in the Division 1 South final last year - and the naysayers have softened. "What's amazing is how the culture has changed, and these players are really looking forward to playing these guys," he said.
It doesn't always go as planned - witness the CM loss - but Spear's squad answered with a 2-1 win over a solid Arlington team. Last season, the Flyers were among the toughest tests for some of the state's best teams.
Bishop Hendricken, a Rhode Island powerhouse, "lost to CM, they lost to Mount St. Charles. And they lost to Framingham High School," Spear said. "Weymouth went to the Super 8, and they lost to us and BC High."
Now, the Flyers believe they can skate with any team. "The kids don't really have any fear of playing," Spear said. "We don't have to convince them they deserve to be on the same ice as anyone."
The senior goalie made 27 saves in a 4-0 shutout.
The Panthers will play Marian in the first round of the Daily News Cup on Sunday at the New England Sports Center.
Hudson, which blanked Auburn in the championship game of the Auburn Tournament on Saturday night for a 2-0 start, takes on Lincoln-Sudbury Regional in the second game Sunday.
The finals are slated for Wednesday.
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com.