The Groton-Dunstable Crusaders “ran out of gas,” according to head coach Phil Rowley, as a five-goal third period by the Wachusett Mountaineers let Wachusett skate away with a 7-4 victory at the Groton School rink Wednesday evening.
After trailing 3-2 for two periods, the Mountaineers took the lead for good with two goals in fifteen seconds about four minutes in. First, Joe Rinaldo fanned on an initial shot, but recovered and beat Crusader goalie Nevin Tardiff stick side. Then Brian Boulette, who registered a hat trick, took the puck from a faceoff win in his own zone and sprinted up ice to deliver a slap shot for the go-ahead goal.
The Mountaineers would extend their lead to 5-3 before the Crusaders made a last-ditch effort with the goalie pulled. Patrick Keating let loose a wrist shot from the right side circle after the entire offense set up on the right side of the dot for an offensive zone faceoff. But Boulette sealed his hat trick at 13:14 as Tardiff was forced to stay in his net, and was caught out of position off a rebound. Rinaldo got his second goal on an empty-netter with 24 seconds left, and that was that.
The Crusaders had a legitimate reason for running on empty — flu-like symptoms caused two defensemen to miss the game entirely and another to head back to the locker room partway through the game. By the end of the game, they were down to three healthy defensemen.
“I’m not making any excuses,” Rowley said, though he did point out that “the effort was great” given the circumstances. “Hopefully we’ll get some rest and come back healthier for Saturday’s game … they tried hard, and I was proud of them for that.”
The Crusaders started out well enough — after a slow start offensively by both teams in the first period, they started to get more shots on goal and eventually broke the ice at 7:57 when Harry Perrault put in a backhand from an impossible angle, straddling the goal line and with his back almost completely turned to the net. Just over two minutes later, they scored again when Ben Strauss rifled home a rebound that bounced far out into the slot.
The Mountaineers came back to tie it with back-to-back goals in the second period. First, Andrew Iacaboni stripped Kam Strong of the puck as he was setting up at the offensive blue line, then took it all the way uncontested. Then Boulette got his first goal of the game when Iacaboni fed him through the crease after collecting a rebound off a shot from Rinaldo.
The Mountaineers nearly took the lead in the final minute of the third period when a shot appeared to go into the net, but the officials signaled to play on. While the Wachusett fans and bench protested, the action went to the other end, and eventually Michael Cole stuffed in a loose puck with 2.2 seconds left.
The Crusaders fell to 3-6-1 and will travel to the Chelmsford Forum in North Billerica for a matchup with Lowell Catholic Saturday at 8 p.m.