FITCHBURG-Monday night's Division three Central Mass. District Championship game had the makings of an instant classic from the moment the puck dropped.
A trip to Thursday's State Semifinals was on the table, and both teams wanted a shot at the once No. 1 in the state Westfield Bombers.
Groton-Dunstable dictated the tempo,but the Mountaineers rose to the summit when it was all said and done in the shootout. Groton-Dunstable out-shot Wachusett 36-27 in regulation, but Wachusett sneaked out of the Wallace Civic Center with a 2-1 shootout victory (4-3).
Senior captain Marc Happy's goal in the shootout deflected of Groton-Dunstable goalie Jason Robes' shoulders, and plopped over the goal-line to tie the shootout at 1-1, and Brian Boulette provided the proverbial death nail for the Crusaders.
"We had the opportunities, and I wish we finished on them," said Crusaders' head coach Phil Rowley. "I wish it would have came out differently, but if you are going to go this is the way to go. The last shot in the last game, it is like the proverbial soldier with the last shot of the last war."
Groton-Dunstable won the regular season clash with the Mountaineers 3-2 at the Groton School rink, and in that game the Crusaders could not find their way out of the penalty box.
C.J. Kenny scored the game's first goal at 4:51 of the opening period with a sniper from the right face-off circle. Wachusett goaltender Jake Strasser didn't have time to react.
Happy gave the large Mountaineers' contingent something to smile about with a silent sweeper from the right face-off circle at 6:25 of the opening frame to bring the tally to a 1-1 standstill.
The tempo picked up in the second as the Crusaders wasted no time getting on the board in the frame. Senior captains, Bradley Zadrozny and Adam Kmetz synced up for a tally as fans were starting to file back into their seats after the first period intermission.
Zadrozny hit a pirouetting KMetz for a nifty finish 17 seconds in to put the Crusaders back on top 2-1.
Groton-Dunstable continued to pepper Strasser in the period, but they were unable to break through. Happy took advantage of a Crusaders' turnover at neutral ice,and tucked a crisp Colin Bennie pass into the left corner of the cage to level the score at 2-2 at 8:37 of the second period.
Groton-Dunstable held a slim edge in the shots on net category leading the Mountaineers 9-8 in the period.
The Crusaders had a bevy of chances in the third period, but Strasser played out of his head to keep the Mountaineers in the game.
Kmetz came in on a breakaway, deked to his right and lifted the puck top-right, but Strasser gloved it with 1:10 remaining in regulation. Groton-Dunstable out-shot the Mountaineers through the overtime period, 47-32, but no shot was bigger than Wachusett's fifth shooter Boulette's.
Junior Groton-Dunstable goalie Jason Robes finished with 30 saves, while his adversary Strasser stonewalled 45.
"Every kid has stepped up at some point during the season," said Rowley." I am proud of every kid in this program.
We had our chances to win it outright. We will be back. The Crusaders finish the season with a record of 15-2-5.