MARLBOROUGH – Last year, the Groton-Dunstable Crusaders came within a shootout of winning the MIAA Division 3 Central boys’ hockey sectional championship. But they were denied by the Wachusett Mountaineers and their leading scorer, Marc Happy.
Fast forward to Wednesday night at the New England Sports Center, where the No. 2 Crusaders again faced off against the No. 3 Mountaineers. And just like before, the Mountaineers, on the back of a Happy hat trick, eliminated the Crusaders by a score of 3-1.
The Mountaineers outshot the Crusaders 11-5 in the first period, and got on the board with just over a minute left when Brian Boulette intercepted a pass in his own zone on the power play and fed Happy speeding up ice on a breakaway to beat Crusader goalie Jason Robes.
In the second and third periods, the Crusaders outplayed the Mountaineers offensively, putting relentless pressure on Mountaineer goalie Jake Strasser and outshooting the Mountaineers 26-8, but Strasser did not flinch, stopping 30 of 31 shots.
Happy struck again 16 seconds into the third period, firing a slap shot from just inside the blue line that rang off the far post and into the net. The Crusaders protested, but after the officials conferred, they upheld the call.
The Crusaders cut the deficit in half four minutes later when Connor Maguire took a shot from the right point, hoping to get a deflection into the goal. Josh Rabbitt, who was camped in front of Strasser along with Derek March, forced the puck through heavy traffic and into the net, giving the Crusaders hope.
But Strasser and the Mountaineer defense held firm, denying every opportunity the Crusaders had in the final ten minutes. Strasser made the save of the game – and potentially the Mountaineers’ season – when he denied Justin Cole on a wide-open one-timer with a split-legged save well out in front of the goal.
“Their defense packed it in, and (Strasser) played well,” Crusaders head coach Phil Rowley said. “They deserve a lot of credit.”
The Crusaders pulled Robes for the extra attacker with 90 seconds left, but Happy sealed the deal as he stopped an attempt by the Crusaders to get the puck into the offensive zone from center ice, then skated in to put home the empty-netter and send the Mountaineers to the sectional final against Shrewsbury on Monday.
“He’s one of those pure scorers,” Rowley said of Happy. “He’s always in the right place at the right time.”
Robes made sixteen saves in his final game for the Crusaders, who finished the season at 16-5. Despite the loss, Rowley was pleased with his team’s effort all season.
“I’m proud of my kids,” Rowley said. “After the season we had last year, we lost eight powerful seniors, and this team just stepped up, and came out to play game after game after game.”