GROTON -- Defense wins championships, but it also prepares teams for the postseason. The Crusaders defensemen were flat out gritty, and are a veteran bunch that after Wednesday will have a few bruises to nurse. Groton-Dunstable downed local powerhouse Shrewsbury 2-1 in a Division 3 crossover game.
Both teams knocked on the door, but were unable to cash in until the second period. Skating around on the left wing is a lunch-pail-and-thermos type of forward, C.J. Kenny. Kenny's goal a minute into the final period sparked the Crusaders.
"We have some great defensive players, and it starts there," said Crusaders head coach Phil Rowley. "I think it is one of the hardest games we played all year, if not the hardest. This is what we will see when we get to the states."
A great display of patriotism was on display throughout the night with American flag banners and U.S. Marine Corps color guard. The Crusaders donned camouflage sweaters in recognition of military night and those who are serving or have served in the armed forces. Groton-Dunstable's defense limited Shrewsbury to fewer than 30 shots for the first time this season. The Crusaders owned a 25-21 edge on goal in the win.
Throughout the season, Groton-Dunstable has had the track record of being the team who strikes first, most often in the first period. Hard, clean hitting was on display as the Crusaders' game plan was to frustrate the Colonials top skaters. Groton-Dunstable's bench consistently hollered to put a body on the puck carrier and outdo the Colonials in the physical game.
The Crusaders owned a decisive shots-on-goal advantage in the first period, outshooting the Colonials 9-3. Groton-Dunstable had some quality chances on net. Kenny tried his luck at a wraparound. Shrewsbury netminder Shane Gorrie stymied the attempt, making it look easy. Groton-Dunstable continued to keep Gorrie under pressure when Kip Strong took an Adam Kmetz offering and tried to tip it in from the back side of goal, but Gorrie stonewalled that chance with 3:05 left to play.
Stalwart defense from both sides kept the game at a standstill in the second period. Shrewsbury was doing an impressive job of pushing the puck into the slot and creating a traffic jam in front of G-D keeper Jason Robes (21 saves). Colonials' first-liner Jack Quinlivan tried to poke the puck by Robes at 5:18 of the first period, but could not push the puck past the goalie's stacked pads. Shrewsbury was on the doorstep in the second period, but Robes' and the blue-liners turned in a performance for the ages.
Joe Aduo spotted up for a sniper attempt from just across the blue line, and Robes ranged to his right to make a diving save. Shrewsbury was leaving a lot of juicy rebounds in front of the net, and it would not be until late in the second period that defenseman Allan Haynes saw an opening and seized it.
Haynes slapped the puck from the blue line down to the corner boards. Haynes then skated around to the right at the mouth of the goal, and took a seed from Bradley Zadrozny and tapped it in with precision to beat Gorrie. Defensemen scoring is a common occurrence for this year's Crusaders, as they have yet to find an established goal scorer.
Haynes' powerplay goal at 12:19 of the second did not happen without a counter by the Colonials. Shrewsbury's Matt Dillon scored less than two minutes later on a slapshot that beat Robes glove side to knot it at 1-1.
Kenny wasted no time in the third period with his goal just over a minute in. Kenny coaxed home a juicy rebound left after a slapper by Nate Rabbitt. Kenny's goal would go on to be the eventual game winner, and it was a pretty one.
Wednesday night was an appetizer for what the playoffs are going to be like for the Crusaders. Groton-Dunstable could very well meet Shrewsbury in the postseason, and it promises to be a great matchup for both teams. In total, only three penalties were issued in what was a clean and competitive contest.