FITCHBURG – When the Groton-Dunstable Crusaders and the Leominster Blue Devils met in the season opener in December, the Blue Devils stole a 4-3 win with three goals in the third period. But when the teams met for the rematch at Fitchburg State Monday night, the game was not nearly as close.
The Crusaders defeated Leominster, 9-1, for their tenth straight win in a game went from competitive to physical to chippy as the Crusader lead got bigger and bigger.
The game started innocuously enough, with good puck movement, defense, and goaltending through out the first nine minutes. At 9:25, Leominster broke through when Cameron Cordio took a feed from John Duffy on a breakaway and beat Crusader netminder Jason Robes to make it 1-0 in favor of the Blue Devils.
That would be the last bright spot for the home team, as just nine seconds later, Josh Rabbitt won the ensuing faceoff and fed Justin Cole for the equalizer. This would be a theme the rest of the game. The rest of the period remained scoreless, but the Crusaders were just getting started.
At 3:06 of the second period, Chris Lattini took a shot from just inside the blue line that was denied by Leominster Goalie Nick Kearney, but the rebound came out far enough for Matt Ovenden to put it back over Kearney’s left shoulder to give G-D a 2-1 lead, an advantage they would not relinquish.
Seventeen seconds later, the Crusaders extended their advantage as Justin Cole won an offensive-zone faceoff and promptly got it to Connor Maguire, who unloaded a blast from the blue line that beat Kearney over his left shoulder again to make it 3-1.
The Crusaders would tack on one more goal in the second period, as Maguire took a shot from the blue line again, aiming for his second goal in under three minutes. Derek March, who was blocking Kearney’s view, tipped it off the underside of the crossbar and into the net, and the rout was on.
“I didn’t have any magic words,” Crusaders head coach Phil Rowley said of his team’s outburst in the second period. “At the end of the first period, we started to get a little momentum going, we got some more shots on net, and we told them to play like they did the last four or five minutes.”
The Crusaders would get five more goals in the third period, including two in the first 22 seconds six seconds apart, and and a shorthanded goal from James Tardif.
Twelve different players scored a point for the Crusaders, including five with multiple points – Cole (two goals, one assist), Rabbitt (two assists), Maguire (goal, assist), March (goal, assist), and Pat Keating (two assists).
As the Crusader lead ballooned, tensions between the two teams mounted. Both teams were called for a combined sixteen penalties, eight of which were called in the third period (including two Leominster misconducts).
The Crusader defense played extremely well, especially on the penalty kill, allowing no goals and just two shots on six Leominster power plays. Robes stopped 12 of 13 shots before being relieved by Ben McEvoy midway through the third period.
“Our defense is just strong,” Rowley said. “They’re buying into it, they’re blocking lanes, they’re standing guys up, they’re not letting anyone get close on our goalie to get any cheap goals.”
During their ten-game winning streak, the Crusaders (12-3, 4-1 Roy Conference) have outscored their opponents 39-6, recording four shutouts and not allowing more than one goal in any game. Their next game is at the Groton School against North Middlesex Wednesday at 7 p.m.