Justin Cole beat the Fitchburg keeper twice in Saturday’s shutout win over Fitchburg at the Wallace Civic Center.
Justin Cole beat the Fitchburg keeper twice in Saturday's shutout win over Fitchburg at the Wallace Civic Center. (Nashoba Publishing/Kent Boynton)

FITCHBURG-Groton-Dunstable's first tilt in Division-3 went off with a bang as they pummeled Fitchburg-Monty Tech 7-0 on their home ice at the Wallace Civic Center Saturday.

Many people surrounding the Crusaders' hockey program wondered just how this team would follow up their 22-0-1 Division 3A state championship victory over South Hadley a year ago. While one game isn't indicative of a season will finish, Crusaders fans have to be happy with the result of their first game.

A new head coach, a new system, and a new staff are all variables thrown into the mix for the Groton-Dunstable Crusaders hockey program this season.

First-year Groton-Dunstable head coach Phil Rowley's group has been working hard in the offseason playing in preseason scrimmages with Division 1 programs such as Barnstable, and Duxbury. The Crusaders made their first night in the Roy Conference one to remember with a commanding win over the Red Raiders.

. The Crusaders out shot the Red Raiders 43-7 in the shutout. Groton-Dunstable's defensemen made it a nice relaxing night for junior goaltender Jason Robes. Robes made seven saves in the win.

"We got great back pressure by our forwards," said Rowley. "I heard these kids needed to work on defensive zone coverage. We are making people responsible for coverage in their own zone. I think that showed tonight. Seven shots, I think that answers itself."

Groton-Dunstable won the draw in their offensive zone, and Justin Cole one-timed the puck by Fitchburg goaltender Tom Leblanc(23 saves) glove side to give the Crusaders a 1-0 advantage with 10:38 remaining in the first period.


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Josh Rabbit was credited with the assist on the goal.

Five minutes later, it was a brilliant feed from Kip Strong that glided its way across the pond to the stick of Matt Ovenden. Ovenden caught LeBlanc guessing, and beat him stick side to give the Crusaders a 2-0 lead with 5:49 left in the first.

At the end of the first period Groton-Dunstable owned a 9-2 shot advantage, and they continued to up the ante when they came out of the intermission.

16 seconds into the second period, senior captain Allan Haynes unleashed a slapper from the blue line off the opening faceoff to beat the Red Raider keeper extending the Crusaders lead to 3-0.

J.J. Tardif glided into the offensive zone like a gazelle, and spun to create separation between him and the Fitchburg defenseman.

Tardif found Brendan Hunter in front of the net. Hunter knocked the mustard off the top shelf with a wicked wrist shot blocker side to up the score to 4-0 with 10:06 left in the second period.

Groton-Dunstable made the Red Raiders pay the price with a powerplay goal late in the second period by Cole, with the assists credited to seniors Brad Zadrozny and C.J. Kenny to increase the Crusaders' lead to 5-0.

The bruisers at the back in Kip Strong, Ovenden, Hunter, Haynes and Mike Keating did a tremendous job keeping the level of physical play up at the blue line.

Kip Strong sped down the ice and scored an unassisted goal on the powerplay beating the keeper left side with a wrist shot with 10:30 left in regulation making it 6-0. Freshman Mike McDonough rounded out the scoring with a late goal assisted by Haynes at 8:53 of the final period.

The Crusaders move to Division-3 was a welcomed challenge to the players and coaching staff. Groton-Dunstable believes that they have what it takes to compete with the elite of Central Mass. hockey.

"The kids all came into the season in shape," said Rowley. "I think we're a big boy. I think we sent a message out to other teams. I am sure there were some scouts from other teams here. We can play with anybody."