MARLBOROUGH -- Coming into Wednesday night's Division 3 Central Mass Semifinal with No. 3 Wachusett (16-4-2), the Crusaders had not played in two weeks. Wachusett senior Marc Happy took advantage of Groton-Dunstable's (14-7) rink-rust and scored three goals to lead the Mountaineers past the Crusaders, 3-2, at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough.
One of Happy's goals went to the goal judge, and the initial ruling was "no goal" by the back linesman, but his ruling was overturned.
"Happy put in three goals -- there's no doubt about it," second-year Groton-Dunstable head coach Phil Rowley said. "The Wachusett defense packed it in, and their goalie played well. They deserve a lot of credit.
"I am proud of my kids," he said. "After the season we had last year, where we lost eight seniors, this team stepped up. He (Happy) got three goals, but on the first one, we lost Happy there. On the second one, he comes across the red-line and takes a nice shot and it goes in -- two-out-of-three of them (officials) said it went in -- I'm still not sure about it."
Groton-Dunstable was still trying to get its legs early on in the first period. Senior defenseman Connor Maguire scooted a pass over to Justin Cole, who tried to go blocker-side, but his shot was steered clear by Wachusett netminder Jake Strasser at 2:38 of the first period.
"It (practice) was getting monotonous," the coach said of the layoff. "Yesterday's practice was ugly after going 14 days without a game. We showed it a little bit in the first period, but we picked it up in the second and third."
Happy etched his first tally at 13:58 of the first period. Brian Boulette capitalized on a Crusader defensive blunder at neutral ice and connected with Happy on a two-on-one breakaway. The Wachusett captain wristed the puck into the top left-corner of the cage to make it 1-0 Wachusett at the end of one.
Happy came out of the dressing room and beat Groton-Dunstable senior goalkeeper Jason Robes 15 seconds into the period. Happy uncorked a blast from the red-line that nipped the snow in the top-right corner of the net and clanged off the left crossbar and grazed the goal line to give Wachusett a 2-0 advantage.
Groton-Dunstable controlled the offense in the second period, out-shooting Wachusett 6-2 in the period -- but it had nothing to show for it. Groton-Dunstable found itself on the back-end of a 2-0 game, but it cobbled together a valiant effort in the third period. Josh Rabbitt had a chance early in the third on a slap-shot from the point, but Strasser snared it with his mitt to alleviate the danger. At 7:30 of the third period, Groton-Dunstable got on the board with a gritty goal by Rabbitt.
Maguire kept the puck inside the blue-line and blasted it toward the net where it found Derek March.
March shuffled the puck over to Rabbitt, who drilled it in the right corner of the cage to bring Groton-Dunsable within one. Later in the period, Rabbitt blasted a one-timer opportunity, but Strasser made a pad save from the seat of his pants to fend of the Crusaders' comeback bid.
Happy put Groton-Dunstable's playoff chances to rest with an empty-netter with 15 seconds remaining.
Last season, the Crusaders bowed out in the Division 3 Central Mass Title Game to Wachusett via a double overtime shoot-out.
"It could've been Shrewsbury or it could've been Leominster," Rowley said on losing to Wachusett for the second consecutive season. "I don't think it's Wachusett -- it's just the seedings. They put the puck in the net, and that's the name of this game. They made mistakes, but we could not capitalize on it."
Wachusett out-shot Groton-Dunstable, 16-13, in the game.