GROTON -- Groton-Dunstable hosted border rival North Middlesex in an inter-conference clash Monday night at the Groton School Rink. However, the game itself was the backdrop as the Crusaders donned their camouflage jerseys on Military Awareness Night, held in the honor of fallen Groton resident and United States Marine Corps. sgt., Billy Woitowicz.
A standing room only crowd was on hand to witness a gritty, hard-nosed clash that saw the visitors from North Middlesex emerge on top, 3-2. Coming into Monday evening's game, Groton-Dunstable was victorious in its last 13 games and already clinched the Roy Conference outright.
"It was at 13 games, but now we just start another one," Groton-Dunstable head coach Phil Rowley said after the loss. "We out-shot them, but they put in one more goal than we did -- that's all that counts. The whole team was very timid. I think they (G-D) played lackadaisical. I don't think there was a lot of urgency in their steps. Hopefully, they learn something from it."
Patriots' junior left wing Ryan McCarthy's top-shelf breakaway tally at 3:48 of the third period proved to be the difference maker. The big storyline of the night was the performance of North Middlesex senior goalie Ryan Twomey, who along with the help of his defense, turned aside 43 shots.
Groton-Dunstable out-shot North Middlesex, 45-12.
"When our goaltender Ryan Twomey is on his game, I would want nobody else in net," North Middlesex head coach Mike McCarthy said. "He is the best goalie in this area when he plays like he did. He is a great equalizer. Last year we lost to Groton off a tip from our own defenseman. Other than that, he was perfect last year."
It was a physical contest from the earliest stages of the first period, as the two teams accrued a combined 10:30 in penalty minutes. North Middlesex drew first blood at 5:27 of the first period. Senior captain Danny McNamara cycled the puck down behind the net and pushed it over to linemate Josh Miller. Miller tucked the puck under the glove of senior goalkeeper Jason Robes to put the Patriots up, 1-0.
Groton-Dunstable took advantage of a five-on-three at 10:41 of the first when Josh Rabbit capitalized on a rebound in front of the North Middlesex cage and tucked it under the right crossbar to knot the game at 1-1.
The two teams went to the dressing room deadlocked at 1-1.
North Middlesex took the lead on a power play goal by Matthew McCarthy at 7:42 of the second period.
Donnie Frederick's inital shot was turned aside by Robes, but Matthew McCarthy swatted the puck letter high under the goalie's glove to make it, 2-1.
Ryan McCarthy scored the eventual game-winner early in the third period on a splendid breakaway tally. McCarthy scooped up a turnover at neutral ice and pounded the puck down the right wing and tucked the puck top-shelf to extend the Patriots' lead to 3-1.
Groton-Dunstable got one back late in the third period on a power play goal by Eric Neimoller. Neimoller swatted a rebound left by Twomey into the top right corner of the net to bring the Crusaders within two at 7:08 of the final period.
That would be as close as the Crusaders would get. Both teams are destined for the playoffs, who they will play is still yet to be determined.
MIAA District Playoff brackets are scheduled to be announced late Saturday afternoon.