The Panther players seem to realize where they best fit in the posteason.
”The Super 8 would be nice, but our main goal is the Division 2 state crown,” winger Jesse MacLaughlin said. “We want to bring the Division 2 ‘chip to Beverly.”
Captain Connor Irving, Beverly High’s all-time leading scorer with 186 points (and counting), agreed with his linemate.
”I know and have played with a lot of those guys before; Siff (Tyler Sifferlin), Ara (Nazarian, both of Malden Catholic), all the St. John’s Prep guys. It’d be an honor to be chosen (for the Super 8) and really cool to play against them,” Irving said. “But honestly, I think we’re better suited for Division 2.”
The reality is that Beverly has lost its first playoff game in each of the past two seasons, so there is plenty for them to prove at the Division 2 level. Then there’s the fact that only three Division 2 schools have ever been invited to the Super 8 party, and none since 1996, when Tewksbury got wiped out in two straight games.
Being a Division 2 playoff participant means the Panthers not only would have a chance to capture their first state title, but also go unbeaten while doing it. Who wouldn’t want that?
Assuming Beverly will be in Division 2 North, they’ll be the favorites in a terrific bracket that will also include top teams like Lincoln-Sudbury, Winthrop, Tewksbury, North Reading and Marblehead.
But don’t sleep on Masconomet. At 12-4-2, the Chieftains play the type of defense-first, quick-transition hockey that can cause big problems for their tournament foes. They’ve also got someone who has made himself into one of the area’s best goaltenders this season in senior Mitch Nekoroski (12 wins, 1.57 GAA, .917 save percentage).
Defensemen like captains Tyler Costello and Jake Jesi, fellow seniors Jeff Panella and Mike Jesi, along with junior Jake Giacchino and sophomore Nick Pease, have teamed with Nekoroski to allow just 31 goals in 18 games. The offense has doubled that output (62 goals) thanks to guys like senior Joe Griffin (23 points), junior Mike Castro (22) and senior Jake Esposito (13), among a multitude of others.
With a staggering 15 seniors on the roster, the time to win for Masconomet is now. No matter how the state tournament bracket shakes out, this is a squad that nobody will relish drawing.
The Blue Line Report, a column on North Shore high school hockey, appears each Wednesday during the winter sports season. Contact sports editor Phil Stacey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.