The 31st Annual Canal Cup hockey game between Bourne and Sandwich takes place Saturday at 3:30 PM at the Gallo Ice Arena. The Sandwich Blue Knights have won the last six games, including last year’s 2-1 victory over the Canalmen. Bourne last won the game in 2006 by a score of 4-2. The Knights hold an 18-11 lead in wins, with the 2005 game ending in a tie.
First played in 1983, a game Sandwich won 7-4, the Canal Cup has grown into an annual rivalry between the two towns and the two teams, around which fans have rallied the first Saturday in February for the past three decades.
So how has the game retained its popularity over the years? It has become a rite of passage for hockey players from both towns and a family tradition that transcends generations. Fathers who played in the Canal Cup now watch their sons take the ice before one of the largest high school hockey crowds they’ll ever see. Former players return for Canal Cup weekend to watch brothers face off on the same ice they skated on as players. And hockey players from both towns, who over the years felt the excitement of the Canal Cup, come back to watch the game that growing up always meant so much.
For most of the players on both teams it all began with the Cape Cod Canal Youth Hockey Program.
“My dad would bring us as little kids to watch the Canal Cup,” Sandwich senior John Glynn recalled. “It was great. I looked up to the kids out there playing back then and wanted to be like them. Now we get to be a part of it ourselves. We’re good friends with the kids from Bourne. We played Canal Youth Hockey together. It’s going to be fun.”
This year’s Canal Cup game will be the second for Glynn, whose brother Paul is a freshman on the SHS junior varsity team and sister Alex skates for the Lady Knights.
“I always went to the Canal Cup game growing up,” Bourne junior Chad Marsh said. “All the kids from Bourne and Sandwich know about it whether they play hockey or not. It’s always the talk of the town in the winter. It’s easily the most intense game of the year. You want to win and have those bragging rights.”
Marsh’s older brother Kevin, a 2010 BHS graduate also played in the Canal Cup.
“He’s always here to watch,” Marsh added.
Blue Knight Head Coach Jordan Mohre played in four Canal Cups between 1996 and 1999 and assistant coach Josh Helms is a veteran of three Cup games having played in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Helms’s brother Chris and Casey are also Canal Cup veterans as is SHS junior varsity coach Gil Bach.
Bourne Head Coach Tom Welch had two sons play in the game. Kevin played for Sandwich, winning the trophy in 1997, and his younger brother Devin played in four Cup games for the Bourne Canalmen. BHS assistant coach Frank Carpenito was on three winning Bourne teams in 1989, 1990 and 1991 and Canalmen volunteer assistant coach Josh Connors played in four varsity Cup games.
Bourne junior Jimmy Commesso will play on the same Canalmen team again this year with his cousin, defenseman Joe Commesso.
“The Canal Cup is the biggest rivalry game that I’ve ever played in,” Jimmy said. “I’ve never been to any high school hockey game with a crowd this big. I always went to the game growing up and always wanted to play in it one day.”
“We grew up playing Canal Youth Hockey together,” Sandwich senior assistant captain Connor O’Leary said. “We see each other almost every day at the rink.”
“There is history and tradition in this game,” Bourne senior captain Tommy Davis said. “I grew up watching this game and now playing in it is really something special. It has been going on for 30 years. We’re all friends, we all played in Canal Youth Hockey.”
“It is just an unreal experience,” Sandwich senior Josh Noonan said, “probably something most of us will never experience again. You can actually feel the crowd. The excitement is palpable.”
Hockey runs in the Noonan family as well. Josh’s father Steve Noonan is a hockey official.
Former BHS player Craig Forget, a member of the Canalmen team that won 1-0 in 1986, has a son, Cameron, who skates on the Bourne JV squad. Bourne hockey announcers Bucky Gilbert and Roger Maolini have second generation connections to the game. Roger’s son Tony was on the 1993 Canalmen team that won 4-2 and Gilbert, who coached the Canalmen in the early 1990s, has two sons, Matt and Ben, who both played in the game for BHS.
Steve Noll, the head coach of the Sandwich girls’ hockey team and former boys’ hockey assistant coach, has two sons that skated in the Canal Cup. Dennis Noll was on the winning 2001 Blue Knights team and Brett Noll earned victories with the Knights in 2002 and 2003.
Bourne Recreation Committee member Greg Folino, had sons Mike and PJ both play four seasons for the Canalmen and Gallo Ice Arena rink manager John Hickey skated for the Canalmen in the very first Canal Cup in 1983.
Anyone that has every played in the game before knows what it’s like to step out onto the ice at the Canal Cup.
“I’ll be pretty nervous,” Sandwich goalie Nick Kennedy, whose sister Molly is a goalie for the Lady Knights hockey team said of stepping onto the Canal Cup ice.
“There’ll be a lot of adrenaline pumping,” O’Leary added.
“It’s like Thanksgiving Day football,” Davis said. “There are so many people in the stands.”
“It is just a special feeling,” Marsh said. “Anyone that’s played knows it’s just awesome.”
Both teams will have a couple of days off leading up to the Saturday game. The Knights, who play in the Division 2 Atlantic Coast League will bring an 8-5-1 record into the game, while the Canalmen, who play in the Division 3 South Coast Conference stand at 7-6-1.
Sharing a history, a rink and the ice will mean few surprises for either team Saturday.
“We’ll probably be a little nervous at the start,” Bourne’s Mike Rafferty said, “but once we get started it should be fine. We’ll be fired up. We’re going to have to watch Jon Cassista and Drew Buckland, they’re playing pretty good and both of their goalies, [Ryan] Oldfield and [Nick] Kennedy are good. They have depth, experience and a good defense.”
Sandwich senior captain Tom Maciel, who will play alongside his younger brother, junior Ben Maciel, sees the Canalmen as a team that works well together. “They have good communication out there,” Maciel said. “I think we’ll have to keep an eye on Jacob Davis, he moves the puck well and Jimmy Commesso, who is a great skater.”
“There isn’t just one person we’re looking at,” Bourne senior goalie Mike Wiggin added. “Their entire team is good. That first line of theirs is very good. We’re going to have to contain them.”
“I think we’ll have to keep an eye on Harrison Eddy,” Sandwich’s Glynn explained. “He’s big, physical and strong on his skates.
Ed Lavelle didn’t play for Bourne last year,” Sandwich’s Noonan pointed out. “He is a definite threat. We haven’t seen him before.”
“Their goalie, Mike Wiggin has had a couple of strong games,” Sandwich goaltender Nick Kennedy pointed out. “I’m sure he’ll come out strong, especially for the Canal Cup.”
“Joe Commesso can put the puck in the net,” Sandwich’s O’Leary said, “and Tommy Davis is really solid on defense.”
“Cassista and Buckland are good,” Bourne’s Davis noted, “and so are their second and third lines. They didn’t lose that many to graduation and they’ve gotten better. They’re quick, always skating to the puck and a good passing team.”
“Sandwich moves the puck well, it’s going to be a fast-paced game,” Rafferty added. “They are a hard forechecking team with good chemistry.”
The anticipation and excitement has been building all week at both ends of the canal. The adrenaline will be pumping on both teams.
“It starts when you open the locker room door,” Sandwich’s Glynn said. “The crowd goes nuts, it’s so loud you can feel it. It’s surreal.”
“It’s my fourth year,” Bourne’s Davis noted, “and I still get so psyched.”
“We’ve looked forward to the Canal Cup since we were little kids,” Kennedy said. “This brings the towns together. A lot of people come to this game. We all know one another, we’re friends—until the puck drops.”