GROTON -- Youth hockey is where all the game's greats got their start. Where they threw their first hip-check, won their first trophy and made their first friends.
This group of young icemen created a winning atmosphere from the very beginning, hamming it up in the locker room before games.
Many of the team's players participated in mite hockey together, or various other sports. The G-D youth hockey team were league champions a year ago, and finished the 2013 season with a record of 6-4-3.
Groton-Dunstable's seventh-grade hockey team was such a skilled group that the Valley Middle School Hockey League president moved them up a division to compete with the eighth graders.
The G-D seventh-graders claimed the Valley Middle School Hockey League title with a 4-1 victory over Lynnfield. Stellar goaltending by Nevin Tardif and his defensemen helped pace the team.
"Two of the games we lost, we played some really big eighth-grade teams," said Groton youth hockey head coach Bob McDonough. "We didn't have any injuries; we have a bunch of tough kids. They stood the test in a tough eighth-grade division, that if they played down in their seventh-grade bracket they would have never been defeated."
The difference between seventh- and eighth-grade hockey is that there is no checking allowed at the seventh-grade level. USA Hockey divvies up the divisions based on birth year.
"USA hockey rules says that for 2000s, they don't get to check until next year," said McDonough. "The balance of our team was kids who don't play check hockey were thrown into a division with kids who were born in 98 or 99 -- that was really a fire-test for this team."
Groton-Dunstable's seventh-graders wasted no-time getting used to the hitting, as they came out of the starting gates with a 4-0 record. The G-D youth's speed and finesse created problems for some of the much stronger eighth-grade competition.
"The kids have been playing a lot of travel hockey," said McDonough. "Instead of trying to goon it up and playing the body, they played good clean hockey. They are all good solid hockey players, good passers and just good positional players. They won a lot of their games on their speed and their skill."
While winning was a welcomed accomplishment, McDonough stressed to his players the importance of having fun and spending time playing the game with friends. The team took that message to heart and decided to give each of the team members' nicknames synonymous with some witty and noteworthy nicknames.
The team is composed of 12 Groton natives, three Ayer, and one Dunstable native. Between the pipes for G-D is stalwart goaltender Tardiff. Tardiff (Dunstable) was adorned with the nickname "bartender" from his teammates for serving up the saves.
On defense, Tardif is flanked by Groton natives Tyler "Third-string" Poulin, Dan "Big Red" Herdiech, Matt "Halftime" Carroll, and Ayer native "Handsome" Johnny Bremer.
On the offensive side of the rink, Groton natives Liam "Questions" McDonough, Blake "Blakester" Lacombe, Andrew "Chief" Berube, "Fearless" Mark Herdiech, "Soft-hands" Timmy Glenncross, Bryan "BK" Kelly, Jared "Wheels" Breton and Yianni "Johnnie Boy" McSweeney.
From Ayer, forward Jared "The Quiet One" Simmon makes an impact on offense. The Groton-Dunstable 15 have matured as the season went on and adapted on the fly to the hard-hitting eighth-grade game. Berube led the Eastern division with six goals and four assists.
McDonough is assisted in his coaching duties by assistants Murry Tardif and Bill Glencross.
"The locker room was like a chatty Cathy session," joked McDonough. "They kept laughing and enjoyed being around each other and having a good time. The second the puck was dropped, they were there to play each and every game."