GROTON -- Prior to Wednesday night's non-conference crossover game with Coughlin Conference contender Oakmont, the Crusaders honored the team's seven seniors at center ice.
On paper, it looked like it was going to be a nail-biter; the reality did not disappoint. The Spartans and Crusaders skated to a 1-1 draw in front of a jam-packed Frank "Junie" O'Brien rink.
Oakmont netminder Marcus Deon put on a clinic between the pipes for the Spartans with 55 saves.
Groton-Dunstable outshot Oakmont by an astounding margin of 57-16, but didn't manage to score until late in the second period.
First-year head coach Phil Rowley admitted he wasn't sure what Oakmont was going to bring to the table, but he was far from surprised by their intense style.
"The first period was just bad," said Rowley. "We didn't play well, and we weren't focused. We had no intensity in the first period, and it is just too bad that we had to go down a goal to gain some intensity."
The first period was a flat one for the Crusaders, as the hangover from pre-game senior night festivities weighed heavy on the minds and hearts of the maroon and white. Groton-Dunstable had a quality chance on net early in the period with a sweeping pass from CJ Kenny to Justin Cole at the mouth of the goal, but Deon punched the puck over the glass behind the net.
Adam Kmetz and the first-liners had some quality chances from the left faceoff circle, but Oakmont's defensemen, led by Jared Paradis, continued to block shot after shot.
Groton-Dunstable had trouble getting into the flow of the game, and they continued to plug away. Oakmont broke the stalemate with nifty stick work, and a crooked wrister past a diving Jack Niemoller gave the Spartans the early 1-0 lead at 9:14 of the first period. Kmetz and Josh Rabbitt continued to crash the net, but they were unable to push the biscuit into the oven.
Rowley and his staff motivated their guys during the intermission, and an entirely different team emerged from the locker room.
"In the second and third period we were all over them," said Rowley. "We out-shot them 50-something shots, but we couldn't put anything in. We were down in their end in the second period for 10 to 12 shots. The kid (Deon) played well."
Keating's ferocious slapshot often finds a seam and creates rebound opportunities. Groton-Dunstable defenseman, sharp-shooter Michael Keating had a banged-up wrist, which was not at full-strength. Without Keating at 100 percent, the Crusaders were suffering a slight disadvantage.
The Crusaders licked their wounds and continued to hammer shot after shot on Deon until finally their persistence paid off. Kenny coasted into the jam in front of the net and laced a tape-to-tape feed to a barreling Bradley Zadrozny for the top-shelf flip to knot the game at 1-1 with 18 seconds remaining.
Follow Ed on Twitter @EdNiser