The Groton-Dunstable Crusaders were bounced from the MIAA Division 3 Central hockey tournament by the Wachusett Mountaineers for the second consecutive year in March. Graduating from that squad were five key contributors: Josh Rabbit, Justin Cole, Derek March, Connor Maguire, and perhaps most importantly, goaltender Jason Robes.
“Robes was a four-year starter,” G-D head coach Phil Rowley said. “We have four goalies trying out. We’ll see who wins the job.”
The Crusaders had a strong 2013-14 campaign, finishing the regular season 16-4-1 (7-1 league) and winning 13 straight at one point. While inexperience between the pipes will be a concern, they’ll have plenty of veterans – and speed – amongst their skaters, with Pat Keating, Eric Niemoller, and Bradley Garside as captains, plus John Lagnan, Ryan Dodge, Chris Lattini, and Harry Perrault returning to the starting lineup. Cam Strong, Robert Hoare, and Mike Cole are also expected to make key contributions.
Rowley is in his third year coaching the Crusaders. He said his team has three big games to look forward to on their schedule: two against Shrewsbury (at Northstar Arena in Westborough on December 29 and at the Groton School on Februrary 11), and on January 21 at the Groton School when they look to get revenge against Wachusett. He also said that his team’s goals are simple:
“Be competitive and get better every time we hit the ice,” he said. The Crusaders will get their first chance to do that on December 13 against Leominster at Fitchburg State.
Over at the Groton School, the Zebras finished last season at 16-8-3 and defeated Westminster 3-2 in the NEPSAC quarterfinals before falling 2-1 to Dexter in the semis.
This season, head coach Bill Riley will have two offensive juggernauts that will hopefully power his team to another playoff berth: junior Mike Brown and senior Ace Cowans, who is committed to the University of Vermont.
Cowans was one of the NEPSAC’s leading scorers, with 25 goals and 31 assists, while Brown had 23 goals and 26 assists. Cowans will be one of three captains for Groton, along with Dorien Lewellyn and Jason Cahoon. Brown, Cowans, and Cahoon are all returning starters, as is Matt Winter.
Riley knows his team has the offense to compete, but wants to see improvement on defense. Overall, however, he says he has “a great group of hockey players [that are] extremely competitive.”
Groton’s season opener is Wednesday at North Yarmouth Academy in Yarmouth, Maine.
Lawrence Academy head coach Robbie Barker did not return multiple requests for comment. The Spartans won their season opener Wednesday 4-2 over Milton.