MARLBOROUGH - Groton-Dunstable faced their first strong test since joining Division 3 this season. On paper, Saturday night's game was as good an early-season matchup as you can get - two state champions turned Division rivals and a thriller for the ages.
Groton-Dunstable rallied behind two late goals by senior Connor Maguire to secure the 5-3 come-from-behind win. Hudson's Shane Barry was a force between the pipes and gave the Crusaders fits all night.
If you keep knocking on the door, someone is going to get annoyed and let you in. The Crusaders knocked on the door 49 times and converted in key situations. Groton-Dunstable improves to 3-0-1 with the win, while the Hawks drop to 1-3-1.
"We felt that we didn't deserve to come out of here with a tie or a loss," said Groton-Dunstable head coach Phil Rowley. "We worked too hard the first two periods. This game is going to be a morale-building experience for the kids. This was a pressure situation. This was a statement game."
Saturday's game had everything you would expect from a game involving two high-caliber teams - hard hitting, lots of penalty minutes and brilliant finishes.
At 2:13 of the first period, Groton-Dunstable's Michael Keating let loose a frozen rope from the blue line that pinged just off the top right corner of the crossbar. Nathan Rabbit connected on a wrist shot that made a wicked slice towards the right side of goal. Hudson senior goaltender Shane Barry dove headfirst and punched the puck out with his blocker to keep the score level at 0-0.
The Hawks and Crusaders skipped testing each other's skills and went straight for the jugular, with both teams alternating goals in the first period. Groton-Dunstable drew first blood on a goal by Connor March at 5:11. March poked the puck home in traffic off a feed by Nathan Rabbitt to give the Crusaders the early 1-0 lead.
Hudson took just 29 seconds to retaliate with a goal of their own by Rocco Malloy on the breakaway. Jeff Hamelin fed Malloy across center ice on a two-on-one to beat Jack Niemoller, tying the game at 1-1.
Less than two minutes later, it was Justin Cole with the shorthanded goal off a nifty pass from Kip Strong to beat Barry stick side. Barry made the initial save, but the puck took a weird bounce off his heel and in to give the Crusaders a 2-1 lead with 7:52 left in the first period.
Hudson had a couple of chances early in the second period that served to keep the pressure on Niemoller. Jeff Hamelin received a pass from John Dutney and knocked the ketchup off the top shelf with a high wrist shot to bring the game back to level pegging at 2-2.
Groton-Dunstable thought they had the go-ahead goal on a slapper by CJ Kenney from Brad Zadrozny, but the goal was disallowed. The net appeared to bulge from the right side when the puck squirted loose. As Groton-Dunstable was celebrating the apparent goal, Hudson sophomore Tyler Casey made a heads-up play and beat Niemoller on the breakway to give the Hawks their first lead of the night, 3-2, at 1:53 of the second period.
"The puck went in the net," said Rowley on the disallowed goal by Kenny in the second. "There is no doubt about it, that's a two-goal swing. The puck went inside and came out."
Rabbitt went to the box for 1:30 for unsportsmanlike behavior, and the Groton-Dunstable bench was discontent with the official's call. Maguire skated up towards the blue line looking like he was going to dump the puck in. Instead he skated into the crease and wristed it home to tie the game at 3-3 with 6:50 left in the final period.
"At first we were yelling for him (Maguire) to dump it in," said Rowley. "I said to my son, Todd, right after he went over the blue line that he was going to score. I would have preferred he dumped it in, but it worked out well."
Maguire's second goal was an absolute firecracker of a slapper from just inside the blue line to beat Barry for the go-ahead goal at 10:07 of the third period.
Zadrozny iced the game with an empty netter in the final seconds to give Groton-Dunstable the 5-3 victory. Niemoller made 15 saves in the win, while his counterpart, Barry, stopped 23.
For updates on all the local action follow Ed Niser on Twitter @EdNiser .