Sports Editor

GROTON — The Groton-Dunstable hockey team entered Wednesday night’s match-up with tough Worcester with little margin for error. In order to qualify for post-season play, the Crusaders needed to sprint to the finish line of the season.

That task got off to a flying start as the Crusaders put together a solid team effort and rolled to a 6-1 win over the Wildcats. Sophomore goaltender Dave O’Brien backboned the win with a confident effort, stopping 37 shots, but his effort was complemented by outstanding offensive and defensive efforts in front of him.

A trio of Crusaders accounted for all the goals. Marc O’Brien finished with two goals and two assists, Brian Flynn added two goals and an assist, while Andrew Dhionis chipped in with a pair of goals. Pat Mahoney and Thomas Semeraro each had two assists.

“This was a must win for us,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Paul Palmer. “This was our best team effort of the season and it came against a good team. The kids understood that getting off to a good start was important, and that is just what we did.”

The Crusaders came out and built a 2-0 first period lead. O’Brien stopped all 13 shots he faced over those 15 minutes, while Groton-Dunstable peppered the Worcester goal with 17 shots.

Worcester had a pair of quality scoring chances in the first three minutes.

Just 30 seconds in, Byron Grinnell’s testing 20-foot backhander was stopped by O’Brien. At the 2:50 mark, O’Brien came up big, making the save after Mike Gask had tipped a shot by Ryan Keddy.

The Crusaders drew first blood at 3:42 when Marc O’Brien skated in from the left corner and tucked a shot past Worcester goaltender Nick Gerardi to make it 1-0. Chris Hartzell and Flynn earned assists.

Groton-Dunstable doubled the lead at 10:35 when Dhionis netted a low wrist shot from outside the left post, Mahoney and Semeraro assisting.

With just 40 seconds left in the period, O’Brien denied Worcester by showcasing brilliant reactions, making an excellent save on a Ryan Keddy shot that was tipped on the way in.

The Crusaders dodged a bullet two minutes into the second period when Keddy broke in from the right wing and fired a shot that bounced off the inside of the right post and rolled harmlessly through the crease, but the Wildats got on the board 36 seconds later. Gaetano Scala was all alone in front and poked in a rebound from close range, Alex Chase and Anthony Cozzolino assisting.

Worcester shot themselves in the foot as they drew two penalties at the 4:28 mark, and the Crusaders took advantage by scoring with a two-man advantage. Flynn took a perfect pass in the slot from Marc O’Brien and ripped a low wrist shot into the net.

The Crusaders creating some breathing room with the final two goals of the period to extend the lead to 5-1.

At 10:13, Marc O’Brien deflected a shot from the point just inside the left post, Alex Cedrone and Mahoney assisting.

Just 44 seconds later, Marc O’Brien won a faceoff in the offensive end and slipped a pass to Flynn, who whistled a low wrist shot inside the left post.

Worcester mounted significant pressure in the final minutes of the period, getting the final six shots on goal, but O’Brien stopped them all, including a kick save off a hard shot by Scala, who had picked up a loose puck in front.

“We got great goaltending from Dave O’Brien tonight,” said Palmer. “He anticipates so well and plays all the angles perfectly. When he is playing like that it creates an air of confidence for us, and I think that it frustrated Worcester.”

The Crusaders capped off the win with the final goal of the game ass 3:24 of the third period on a pretty combination passing play. Corey English sent a long diagonal pass on left wing to Semeraro, who skated in and sifted a pass to Dhionis at the right post and he tipped the puck into the open net.

“I’m really happy with the six goals from a number of different players,” said Palmer. “This is a key conference win for us and now we need eight points in our final seven games to earn a post-season berth.”