The Crusaders, the sixth seed in the section, took that advice to heart and delivered a result that, to some, was to be expected — a 13-1 shellacking over the eleventh-seed Blackhawks at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.
Quinton Forbes, Ryan Dodge, and Tristan Lynch each had a hat trick for G-D, while Forbes added four assists. His first assist led to a spectacular goal, as he lobbed a pass from behind the left side of the goal to Nick Irby, who jumped to catch it and scored his first of two goals before his feet touched the ground.
Forbes would assist on the next two goals, then score his first goal with 1:02 remaining in the first quarter to give the Crusaders a 4-0 lead. He would complete his hat trick with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter off a dodge that buckled his defender’s knees.
“We went into this game knowing that they’re a playoff team and this was do or die,” Arena said. “We had to come out pretty aggressively, and our guys had to be at a decent level to get up on them early.”
The other Crusader point-getters were Zach Cotoni (one goal, two assists) and Austin Hourani (two assists). Paul Leonardo (one goal), and Ryan Heinser (one assist).
The Crusaders dominated not only on the scoreboard, but on faceoffs (winning 12 to Bellingham’s five) and ground balls (25-15). The only statistic where they weren’t outplayed was saves — Crusaders goalie P.J. Kendall only had to make six stops, while Bellingham’s Eri Cote made seventeen, some of which denied point-blank opportunities for the Crusaders.
“We were relentless on ground balls,” Arena lauded. “And I was really happy with the way our attackmen rode their clears … those little things are what’s going to make the difference in the tournament.”
On the subject of faceoffs, Arena praised Heinser’s efforts: “[He] did a great job today. He lost one faceoff. That’s an area where he’s been improving, and he’s done a real nice job for us the past few games. It makes such a huge difference, because those are possessions. Any time we have the ball and they don’t, it’s a good thing.”
The Crusaders will face the third-seed Ashland Clockers at Ashland High School Saturday at 2 p.m. in a quarterfinal matchup. Arena is looking forward to the challenge.
“Ashland’s good,” he said. “We’re up against a big challenge. We’re going down there, it’s going to be the day after our graduation, and we’re going to have to come out and really be mentally prepared for those guys.”