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G-D hockey head coach Payne resigns

During Brian Payne’s tenure as head coach of Groton-Dunstable’s boys’ hockey team, the Crusaders attained pretty lofty heights. G-D’s combined record of 66-10-2 during the last three seasons under Payne is among the best in MIAA hockey during that period and includes a 22-0-1 campaign in 2011-12, when the Crusaders claimed a Division 3A state title.

But Payne will not be behind the bench when the Crusaders open up their title defense on Dec. 15. On Friday, he resigned from his post.

In an interview with ESPN Boston on Tuesday, Payne said he did so for the benefit of his players.

“They wanted to go in a different direction,” Payne said. “The biggest thing is that they wanted their own guy. They have the right to make whatever decision they’re going to make. We had different views.”

When reached for comment on Tuesday, G-D principal Michael Mastrullo confirmed the school has found a replacement as the boys’ hockey coach, but haven’t yet announced the candidate’s name.

Mastrullo said he was surprised by Payne’s decision, but indicated there recently had been meetings between the coach and athletic director Mike McCaffrey regarding finances and fundraising tied to program costs.

“That’s where the philosophical differences came from,” Mastrullo said. “We have an issue with too much fundraising being asked of all our kids and parents. There were a lot of things that were asked for, not necessarily frivolous things, they’re all nice things, but in these days we have to be fiscally minded.

“When it comes down to it, you have to look at things as a need versus want comparison.”

Payne believes the debated items were to the benefit of the entire program, such as enlisting a power skating coach to work with the Crusaders’ junior varsity squad at intervals throughout the season. Payne said that the program had been agreed upon during the summer, but McCaffrey later changed his mind.

While Payne sought out fundraising measures as a means of defraying the cost of such enhancements, Mastrullo felt too much pressure was being applied to the skaters’ families.

“Why not give kids the ability to offset costs?” Payne said.

Beside the Crusaders’ on-ice accomplishments under Payne, there was also a strong track record of community involvement.

G-D held a fundraiser for the Sgt. William J. Woitowicz Memorial Fund in its February game against Lunenburg, among other recent drives for causes such as Toys for Tots. The Crusaders have also raised $5,700 assisting in the purchase of a new bed for Justin Brace, a former youth league player who Payne coached and was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21.

“I love coaching high school,” said Payne, who also has coaching experience at the college level, when asked about his future plans. “You can really have an influence on these kids’ lives. Hockey is about character. As I’ve always said, character builds champions. If you have good character kids, you’re going to win championships.”

Mastrullo spoke highly of Payne despite the parting of ways.

“He certainly got a lot out of his players in his time here and accomplished a lot. We wish him nothing but the best.”