SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Groton-Dunstable coach Brian Payne talked about pride and character when the question centered around his team.
On Thursday, his Crusaders demonstrated both as they defeated South Hadley 4-3 to win the Division 3A state hockey championship at the MassMutual Center.
The title is the first in school history and on top of that, it avenges a loss to this very same team in last year's final when they were known as Holyoke.
"The character of our kids is they don't give up," Payne said. "I didn't have to keep our kids motivated. It's hard to do that when you are winning."
G-D finishes its stellar season at 22-0-1 while the Tigers close out at 22-1-1.
Freshman Nathan Rabbitt's rebound goal at 11:52 of the third period proved to be the game-winner as the Crusaders' defense closed things out by suffocating South Hadley's high-powered offense the rest of the way.
"You wanted to get revenge and you didn't want to go down two years in a row losing a state championship," G-D junior forward Adam Kimetz said.
The Tigers led early on a Spencer Nawrocki goal but Kimetz answered in the closing minute of the opening period to tie matters at 1-1. Kimetz put his club ahead just 1:17 into the second frame with a rebound tally past netminder Devin Hoagland (14 saves).
The Tigers stormed back nine minutes later however when Joey Harris was able to grab a loose puck in front of Crusader goalie Jason Robes and slip it past the sophomore to make the score 2-2.
But back came G-D. C.J. Kenny's one-time blast off a feed from Josh Rabbitt with under two minutes remaining in the period sent the Crusaders into the second intermission on top 3-2.
Things remained that way until Chris Menard would light the lamp at 9:55 of the third after cutting through the G-D defense and beating Robes (15 saves) glove side.
With this contest up for graps, leave it to a freshman to come through with a the winning marker and give the Crusaders the biggest win in school history.
"We have 22 hockey players and it needed to take 22 guys to win this hockey game for us," Payne said. "Nate Rabbitt is just a freshman and sat on the bench two-thirds of the night comes out for one shift and gets the game-winning goal. It's truly incredible."