GROTON -- Throughout the week the Groton-Dunstable hockey team has been fine-tuning their skills in the offensive zone. Getting quality chances off of rebounds was a key focal point in practices leading up to Wednesday's tilt with Fitchburg.
The Crusaders dispatched Fitchburg for the second time this season by a score of 5-1.
Groton-Dunstable opened up Division 3 play against the Red Raiders in Fitchburg early in the year and won that game 7-0. It is safe to say that the Crusaders have had Fitchburg's number this season.
"We came out strong, and you could just tell we were just taking it away," said Phil Rowley. "Our blue line came up big. We had a lot of shots and opportunities to get the puck in the back of the goal. We remembered from the first time we played them that their goalie allows a lot of rebounds off the sides, and two of our goals came of rebounds tonight."
The first period started out sloppy for both sides, as neither team had much luck threading the needle in the crease. Fitchburg had a quality chance on a shot by right wing Josh Emma that was snared by Jack Niemoller (18 saves) at 3:24 of the first period.
Groton-Dunstable started to show more aggression on the offensive side of the ice and were rewarded for their efforts with a rebound goal by C.J. Kenny at 4:46 of the first period.
Justin Cole put the puck on the cage, and it was deflected by Zach Hachey. Kenny charged into the congestion and punched the puck past Hachey left side to give the Crusaders a 1-0 lead.
Fitchburg wing Connor Cassacca had a quality chance from the point late in the period, but Niemoller had other ideas as he gloved the laser slapshot with ease. Groton-Dunstable went into the dressing room with a slim 1-0 lead and a 10-5 advantage in shots.
Groton-Dunstable came out of the intermission looking to add some cushion to their lead, and they were rewarded.
Crusaders forward Nathan Rabbitt skated the puck in on net, teased the puck with the blade of his stick and nonchalantly dumped it past Hachey to give Groton-Dunstable a 2-0 lead at 3:43 of the second period. Derek March was credited with the assist on the goal.
Fitchburg managed to bridge the gap with a goal at 6:07 of the period, when Ryan Boucher came thundering towards the goal and poked a rebound past Niemoller to make it 2-1.
Groton-Dunstable continued to pressure Hachey in the second period, sounding off shot after shot until they were rewarded with another goal at 10:56.
March uncorked a howitzer of a slapshot from the blue line and Bradley Garside poked it in to extend Groton-Dunstable's lead to 3-1.
As the second period was coming to a close, senior captain Allan Haynes swept a shot from the blue line through a gaggle of Fitchburg defensemen and in with one second left for a power play goal, which was the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Red Raiders.
March would score just 30 seconds into the third to close out the scoring for the Crusaders. Groton-Dunstable dominated the shot sheet with a distinct 47-19 shot advantage. March had a spectacular evening with a goal and two assists in the win.
Wednesday night was a special one for Rowley, as he was celebrating his birthday, but a humble gesture by his players really hit home. "The kids wore pink tonight to honor my wife, who was diagnosed with breast cancer," said Rowley. "They did that for her, and it was really touching. She is fighting and doing well."