GROTON, Mass. -- Do not call Groton-Dunstable a finesse team. If you do, they might take offense to it.
The Crusaders would prefer you categorized them as ruthless and nasty -- a team not afraid to knock heads or sacrifice their bodies to block shots. Wednesday night, they did a little of both.
In a match up between two of the top Division 3 programs in Central Mass., the Crusaders held off Shrewsbury, 2-1, in a non-conference tilt at the Groton School Rink. In a game that went full-throttle from start to finish, Groton-Dunstable forward C. J. Kenny’s goal at 1:06 of the third period proved to be the difference. The Crusaders clamped down on the Colonials for the remainder of the period, improving their overall record to 15-1-3.
Kenny, a senior, scored the game-winner after he was able to gain control of a loose puck in front of the Shrewsbury crease and knock it past goaltender Shane Gorrie. While scoring chances were limited for both teams, it was the Crusaders defensive output that stole the show.
Groton-Dunstable's strategy in slowing an opposing foe is by applying constant pressure on anyone handling the puck. This also includes the Crusader forwards, who are expected to assist the defensemen on any rush up the ice.
Shrewsbury’s top line of Dave Belbin, Dan Quinlivan and Jack Quinlivan were all held in check throughout the evening as they failed to register a point for the first time this season. Anytime the puck was on their collective sticks, so too, was a Crusader to disrupt their lane to the net.
“Our forwards did a great job getting back, helping us and not giving them any time or space,” senior defenseman Mike Keating said. “When they don’t have time or space we can step up and get into their grill and then they can’t get shots.”
With the possibility of these two teams meeting again in the postseason, Shrewsbury realizes it needs to find a way to break free in order to set up better scoring chances or else a similar outcome might occur.
“They took a lot of time and space away from us because of their big size and reach,” said Colonials coach Steve Turnblom whose team dropped to 11-4-1. “They also did a great job in their own end blocking shots and taking areas away for our guys to shoot. They’ll be a handful for teams facing them in the playoffs. We just need to adapt to their style and be hungrier the next time.”
Almost two periods had passed before a goal was scored. With his team on the power play, Allan Haynes, a senior defenseman, put Groton-Dunstable on the board first with a shot just outside the crease at 12:19 of the second period.
But with just 50 seconds remaining in the period, the Colonials got even. Freshman Matt Dillon, standing inside the right circle, roped a shot through traffic that Crusader goalie Jason Robes never saw making it 1-1.
In the locker room during the second intermission, Turnblom preached to his club the importance of getting the next goal. Unfortunately, the Colonials failed in that quest. Instead it was Kenny who breathed new life into the Crusaders with his early final period score. For the remainder of the period, Groton-Dunstable, in its first season as a Division 3 program after winning a Division 3A state title a year ago, stepped it up on the defensive side as they continued to frustrate the Colonials any time they moved the puck over the center line.
“These are the type of games we’re going to see once we get into the tournament,” Groton-Dunstable first-year coach Phil Rowley said. “I think this was one of the hardest games our kids have played in all year if not the hardest. Our captains held a team meeting [on Tuesday] and talked about bringing the intensity level up and they brought it into this game. The senior leadership we have on this team is unbelievable.”