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February 12, 2014

The Blue Line Report: Playoff performance will ultimately determine Panthers' legacy

(Continued)

Other forwards, such as seniors J.J. Bachini (14 points), Kevin Lally (12), Jake Straw (10) and Ryan Santo (7); juniors Jesse MacLaughlin (8), Brenden Boyle (5) and Clinton Cabral (3); and sophomores Ross Wahl (9), Hunter Spencer (4) and Tyler Cloutman (2) provide scoring balance while combining to kill penalties, block shots, win battles in the neutral zone and, most of all, are committed to team defense.

So what does this all mean?

Well, much like our favorite pro football team down in Foxboro, it’s gotten to a point for Beverly where the regular season doesn’t mean that much. It’s all about how they fare in the playoffs.

Nobody associated with the program needs to be reminded of highly successful regular seasons the past two years ended abruptly by first round playoff upsets. Brushed aside but never completely forgotten, the Panthers realize in order to be considered one of the all-time greats (or possibly, the greatest ever), they need to produce in the postseason.

The aforementioned 1971-72 team is generally regarded as Beverly’s best. Billy “Squeak” Gilligan, who went on to a fine pro career as a player and coach, won North Shore Hockey League MVP honors after scoring 43 goals and 77 points, tops in the state (and beating out some guy named Mike Eruzione of Winthrop for NSHL bragging rights). His brother, defenseman Bob Gilligan — yes, Beverly’s current head coach — was an all-league stalwart who could pile up the points while logging 30-plus minutes of ice time; goalie Jeff Goodchild was among the best in Massachusetts and won up earning All-Tournament honors for his playoff performances. Roger LeBlanc and Billy LeClerc, combined with Squeak Gilligan up front to put up absurd 85-93-178 totals in the regular season, best in school history by a wide margin.

Playing as a Division 1 team (they did so until 1993), this Beverly team sealed its legacy in the state playoffs. In a seven-overtime thriller (yes, 7 overtimes) that took two days to finish, LeBlanc’s goal past future Bruins assistant coach Cap Raeder finally knocked off Needham, 3-1. The next game in the quarterfinals (at the old Boston Garden), the Panthers needed another three OTs before Kevin Huggett’s snipe toppled Archbishop Williams, 5-4. Back again at the Garden in the state semifinals, the Orange-and-Black went toe-to-toe with mighty Arlington before falling, 3-2. Billy Gilligan would finish with a school record 84 points as the Panthers’ record-breaking season ended at 21-2 overall.

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