The Beverly Middle School hockey team has been setting the Viking League on fire this winter.
After finishing in first place during regular season play with a 14-0 record (16-0 overall), Beverly entered the playoffs in the eight-team league as the No. 1 seed. They crushed eighth-seeded Salem, 8-0, in the quarterfinals and will now face Swampscott in the semifinals; the winner gets either Marblehead or Byfield in the league championship game on Thursday, Feb. 27 at Salem State’s Rockett Arena.
Much like their older Panther hockey players at the high school level, the Beverly Middle Schoolers have cruised through the regular season, outscoring their opponents 93-14. The team is made up of sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
“When I moved back to Beverly in 2005 my boys wanted to play hockey, but there was no program for them,” said head coach Jack Mitchell, who helped found the Middle School League in 2006. He hasn’t had a son on the team in the last four years, but remained involved in the program because of a desire to give back to the community. “(Rockett Arena rink manager) John O’Neill wanted to get a league going at Salem State, and (Peabody High head coach) Mark Leonard was also instrumental in helping to start it.
“The competition is great and gives the kids a chance to play together while representing their school and city. Our team takes great pride in wearing the Beverly uniform and playing with their friends. Hopefully, they’ll stay together and play for the high school team.”
One of the things Mitchell is proudest about is how many youngsters go on to play key roles for the Beverly High Panthers. This year only one member of the Beverly High varsity did not come up through the Middle School program. Goalies Tim Birarelli and Bryce Mitchell, as well as Teddy Leathersich, Graham Doherty, Nick Albano, Jake Straw, Bryce Mitchell, Sean Munzing, Jack Morency and Clinton Cabral, among others, all played for Mitchell and have gone on to help head coach Bobby Gilligan and the high school Panthers earn the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Division 2 North state playoffs.