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GROTON — The Groton-Dunstable hockey team is coming off a breakout season in which the Crusaders finished with an overall record of 19-3-1 and advanced to the Division 3A State Championship game before dropping a decision to a strong Holyoke team.

Third-year head coach Brian Payne must overcome graduation losses that cost the services of Chase Lundgren, Brett Sullivan, Tommy Beal, Riley Baxter and Dylan Tardif.

What can the Crusaders do for an encore? Payne is keeping it simple.

“Our goal is to make the playoffs and see what happens,” he said.

The Crusaders feature depth at forward with three solid lines, plus a pair of players battling for playing time.

The red line is centered by junior C.J. Kenny, flanked by seniors Michael Noeth and Steve Mullins.

“C.J is a playmaker with the ability to score goals,” said Payne. “He is a strong skater, a solid penalty killer and is just a strong all-around player. Michael is a defensive forward who is a banger. He is experienced and provides a lot of leadership. Steve is an assistant captain and is a strong player who gives us a physical presence. We are looking for more offense from him this season.”

Comprising the yellow line will be junior center Adam Kmetz, a captain, flanked by junior Brad Zadrozny and senior Mike Kerwin.

“Adam is a hard worker who is a playmaker and a leader,” said Payne. “He is a strong skater and an excellent penalty killer and we are looking for increased offensive production from him. Brad is a grinder who can both set up plays and score goals. He is an excellent finisher. Mike is a playmaker and a strong defensive player. He is a leader who always gives 100 percent effort.”

Sophomore Josh Rabbitt will center the green line, with freshman Nathan Rabbitt and senior Sean Mahoney on the wings.

“Josh is a strong offensive player with great hands,” said Payne. “He is a physical player and a strong skater. Nathan is a newcomer who is physical and plays the game hard. Sean is a sold penalty killer and a playmaker. He is physical, does a great job of backchecking and can be a defensive shadow.”

Working hard to gain time up front are Bradley Garside and Derek March.

The defense also has solid depth, led by the first two pairings. Sophomore Conner Maguire will be paired with junior captain Allan Haynes, while sophomore Justin Cole will team up with junior assistant captain Mike Keating.

“Conner is strong defensively, but complements that with the ability to carry the puck,” said Payne. “He will be on the power play. Allan is a leader with great size and experience. He is a physical presence and we are looking for more offense from him. Justin has switched from forward to defense and has made a big impression. He is talented and versatile and provides me with options. Mike is a stay home defenseman. He is a physical player and a great leader.”

The third defensive pairing consists of senior Garrett March and sophomore Anthony Resca.

“Garrett and Anthony are both returning varsity players,” said Payne. “Garrett is offensive-minded and has a great shot while Anthony is a stay home defenseman.”

Adding further depth defensively will be sophomore Matthew Ovenden and junior Andrew Sinnery.

“Matthew has switched from forward to defense and his play is much improved,” said Payne. “Andrew is also a converted forward and his is working hard to gain time.”

The team will have a new look in goal this season as sophomore Jason Robes and junior Jack Niemoller are battling for the job.

“Jason is quick, fundamentally sound and is always in the right position,” said Payne. “Jack is hard-working and is a player who listens and learns. The competition is even right now and we are looking for one of them to step up.”

There is a lot to like about this year’s team.

“Our strengths start with speed and the commitment to success that the kids have,” said Payne. “I like the character and leadership we have and also like our depth. The kids are versatile which gives me a number of options, and we have three solid forward lines.

“My concerns are our ability to score and our inexperience in goal, but I like both candidates and the position could be a strength before the end of the season,” Payne said. “I love the character on this team and the way the kids work toward a common goal. With these kids, I enjoy coming to the rink every day.”

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