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.
“When I was a young boy, coach Tom Deering took us all off the ponds and into the rink,” said Mitchell. “He started a club team called the Warriors and was a very influential person in my life. My love for the game grew because of him.”
Mitchell is carrying on that tradition. It has been three years since Beverly won the league title, but that could change later this month. Last year’s champion was Peabody and the year before, Marblehead claimed the title.
Beverly’s top line features Anthony D’Amato at left wing, Paul Edson at center and Andrew Mezza on right wing. Preston Nearis centers Ryan Munzing (LW) and Timmy McCarthy (RW). The other line has Conor Hanlon between left wing Steve Hallinan and right wing Patric Cotreau.
Liam Connolly, Shane Cassidy, Andrew Shea, Aaron Carroll and Cooper McNinch are the defensemen. Troy Doyle is the regular goalie with eighth grader Madison Jalbert (who starts for the Beverly/Danvers girls’ varsity team), has played in a handful of games. Another member of the Panther girls varsity squad, high scoring eighth grader Julia Nearis, has also helped out in a few games. Brenden Linehan, Shane Corcoran, and Cole Johnson are team alternates.
What makes this group so special, said Mitchell, is unselfishness and the commitment to play as a team. Edson has always been a defenseman for his club hockey team, but Mitchell moved him to center, which has helped make him a more offensive-minded defenseman.
“The last couple of years we’ve been around .500, but this season we have a great group of eighth graders who have really grown up,” said Mitchell, who is assisted by long-time Beverly hockey coach Peter Shea. “Edson is already 6-feet-2 and plays well with D’Amato. Connolly is a big defenseman, and both Munzing and McCarthy are having outstanding seasons. Doyle is a great little goalie who doesn’t allow many to get by him. Our eighth graders are carrying the team.”