GROTON — Wednesday night’s match-up with Fitchburg might not have qualified as a ‘must game’ for the Groton-Dunstable hockey team, but with a 2-4-2 record it was an important contest as the Crusaders needed to get some positive momentum going for a post-season drive.
They did just that, but barely, squeaking past the Bulldogs 4-2.
Senior defenseman Dan Braun proved to be the difference maker on this night, slipping a slapshot from the right point past Fitchburg netminder Craig Tiikkala with just 45 seconds left to break a 2-2 tie. Brian Flynn’s open-net goal 42 seconds later put some icing on top of the cake.
Groton-Dunstable trailed 2-1 after two lacklustre periods, but the Crusaders featured an energized offense in the final period, firing 15 shots on goal.
Flynn tied things up at 2-2 at 6:23 of the final period when he netted a 20-foot wrist shot after taking a pass from Marc O’Brien. That power-play tally set the stage for Braun’s game-winner.
“We showed more intensity in the third period,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Paul Palmer. “Near the end of the first period we were disjointed from killing penalties and we didn’t create a lot of chances in the second period. We regouped, and give the kids credit for the third period they played. Flynn and Braun came up with excellent goals by a pair of seniors.”
The Crusaders wasted little time in taking the lead, Chris Hartzell firing a strong wrist shot into the upper right corner just 3:11 into the first period. Flynn earned an assist on the tally.
Fitchburg answered back just 54 seconds later, Zack L’Ecuyer taking a pass from Zack Sultan and firing a low wrist shot inside the left post to make it 1-1.
The Crusaders picked up a pair of penalties and were forced to playtwo men short for 44 seconds, but held the Bulldogs off. Groton-Dunstable goaltender David O’Brien came up with one big stop, denying L’Ecuyer from close after he broke past two Crusader defenders. Groton-Dunstable’s Marc O’Brien, Hartzell, Mike Flewelling, Craig Ferrere, Braun and Flynn were outstanding on the penalty kill, which turned into a persistent theme in the game.
“Our penalty killers did a great job,” said Palmer. “But despite that, having to kill penalties destroys continuity.”
The teams went to intermission tied at 1-1, Groton-Dunstable holding an 11-8 edge in shots on goal.
The Bulldogs scored the only goal of the second period at 8:34 to take a 2-1 lead. Sultan netted a rebound from outside the left post after O’Brien had stopped the first two shots.
The Crusaders had two outstanding scoring chances in the period, which was dominated by defense.
At 3:40, Marc O’Brien’s backhander was stopped by Tiikkala, after Flynn had picked the pocket of a Fitchburg defender.
At 12:45, Flewelling adroitly deflected a slap shot from the point, that Tiikkala changed directions on and stopped.
The Crusaders’ offense was dormant for most of the second period, but they picked up the pressure in the final minutes.
After Flynn’s third period equalizer, O’Brien came up with his best save of the game to keep the Crusaders on even terms. At 7:00, he stopped a hard slap shot and then dived across the goal to rob Sultan on the rebound shot from close range.
“We have some tough games ahead of us and this was an important two-point win tonight,” said Palmer.