GROTON -- Groton-Dunstable athletic director Mike McCaffrey announced to Nashoba Publishing Tuesday that the Crusaders' have hired coaching veteran and Billerica native, Phil Rowley as their next head hockey coach. The news comes following Brian Payne's resignation last Friday. Under Payne, the Crusaders made two trips to the state finals, and won the Division 3A State Championship over South Hadley last season by a margin of 4-3.
Payne's coaching record over three seasons behind the Crusaders' bench was an impressive 66-8-4. In his time as head coach, the Crusaders did a lot of work for the community with fundraising.
Payne described the final meeting he had with his former players as a rough one. Payne mentioned how important the Groton-Dunstable boosters, and parents were to the success of the program.
"It really comes down to a difference of opinion in what direction the program wants to go," said Payne. "Three years ago there was a perfect situation in Groton. The administration appreciated the fundraising I was doing to help offset costs. I wish the team the best of luck; I have a lot of respect for the players, parents and boosters. Without them, we wouldn't have been successful."
With the high school hockey season about to start next week, the Crusaders found themselves in a bind scrambling to find a replacement. "When you're put in a tough situation just two weeks before the season begins, you go back to your comfort zone," said McCaffrey.
Groton-Dunstable moves into the tougher Div. 3 Central Massachusetts league where they will compete with local teams such as Hudson and Marlboro.
Rowley's career has had stops along the way at Billerica High School, Bishop Guertin and Austin Prep. Rowley has spent the last three seasons as the head girls' hockey coach at Andover High School, but he decided he wanted to get back to coaching the guys.
"I think he is a great coach who brings a wealth of experience," said McCaffrey. "Coach Rowley will be a wonderful addition to our program."
Rowley has coached at the high school level for more than 25 years as an assistant and head coach. In addition to his high school experience, Rowley has served as a head coach for several local youth programs.
Rowley was heading to a meeting with an old friend at North Andover High School for an assistant coaching job with their hockey program, when Groton-Dunstable called. Over the past couple weeks of practice, Rowley has been very impressed with his new group of players.
"These kids are great. They have made the transition very easy," said Rowley. "They are a good group of kids. Their whole world was upside down a week ago. Questions went through their heads: where did our coach go? Is the new guy going to be a tyrant? They have adapted to the new system like professionals. I could not be more proud of them."
Rowley's son Todd is a senior goaltender for Framingham State, and will serve as the Crusaders' assistant coach.
Groton-Dunstable opens the regular season on the road next Saturday at 5:20 p.m. when they face the Fitchburg Red Raiders at the Wallace Civic Center.