By Phil Stacey
---- — For the second consecutive year, the once-beaten Beverly High hockey team will enter the state tournament as the top seed in Division 2 North.
And for the second consecutive year, the Panthers could be staring across the ice at the blue-and-white sweaters from Danvers in their first playoff contest — and would clearly hoping for a better result this time around.
Looking for their first postseason triumph since 2011, Beverly is the No. 1 seed in the 11-team Division 2 North bracket. The Panthers (18-1-1) have been on a season-long mission to bring home the school’s first-ever state hockey championship.
But it’s a road that will be as smooth as pond ice in April. Danvers (10-9-1), which gained 11 of a possible 16 points down the stretch run to punch their own postseason ticket, is the No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 Amesbury tomorrow at Chelmsford Forum (7:30 p.m.); the winner gets Beverly in a quarterfinal clash Friday at Stoneham Arena (7:45).
Two other local clubs with Division 2 title dreams of their own, Marblehead (16-5-1) and Cape Ann League co-champion Masconomet (14-4-2), kick off postseason play Tuesday. The Headers are the No. 7 seed and host No. 10 Haverhill (9-9-2) at Chelmsford Forum (5:10), while No. 6 seed Masco (14-4-2) faces off against No. 11 Revere at Stoneham Arena (7:30).
Elsewhere locally, St. John’s Prep won’t be in the Super 8 tournament for the first time in four years. Instead, the Eagles (9-9-2) are the No. 15 seed in Division 1 North, where they’ll meet second-seeded Arlington (12-3-5).
In Division 3 North, Salem (9-8-4) is back in the state playoffs after a seven-year hiatus. The Witches earned the No. 10 seed and have drawn No. 7 Dracut as their first round matchup Thursday in Stoneham (5 p.m.).
Beverly doesn’t need to be reminded of its 4-3 upset loss to Danvers in last year’s quarterfinal round, and there is little doubt they’d love to gain a measure of revenge if given the chance this year. But head coach Bob Gilligan said his team isn’t focused on that.
“It still sticks in their minds, what happened last year, but you can’t get caught up worrying about that,” said Gilligan, whose Panthers won their second straight Northeastern Conference North crown while allowing just 25 goals in 20 games. “And we haven’t seen Amesbury yet, so we’ll have to check them out (tomorrow) and go from there. Whoever we play, we know we’ve got to take care of what we can do well and protect the puck from the goal on out.”
Gilligan met with his players for about a half-hour before practice Friday and put to rest what happened during his team’s first loss of the season against Weymouth two nights earlier.
“You have to learn from a game like that, and it’s probably the mental part of things more than anything else,” said Gilligan. “We went over getting the kinks out and not pushing the panic button, about staying positive and supporting one another. Having that happen before the tournament isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
Danvers won each of its last three games to earn its 24th tournament bid in the last 25 years. Last year’s Div. 2 North finalists will take on an Amesbury (8-8-4) squad that would love to knock off their foes from the Northeastern Conference for a second time in 2013-14; the Indians shellacked the Falcons, 7-0, back on Jan. 18.
“They took it to us pretty good,” said Danvers head coach Kevin Brown. “But it’s a new season now and we’d like to use some of that energy and momentum we’ve had the last few games and bring it with us into the playoffs.
“It’s extremely important for us not to look ahead (to a potential third meeting with Beverly); we’ll be addressing that right off the bat. We have enough senior guys on this team who have been around and know how things work; they can carry that message into the locker room. Tuesday is the most important game of their careers; nothing else really matters.”
Masconomet is back in the hockey playoffs for the first time since 2011. The Chieftains will meet Revere (5-14-1), a team that was granted entry into the state tournament by the MIAA after being forced to forfeit its first 10 games this season for using an ineligible player. The Patriots turned themselves in for the violation, which undoubtedly was looked favorably upon when they were allowed postseason entry.
“I’m excited. I’ve been looking forward to this since we lost to we lost to Newburyport my senior year of high school with Coach (Bob) Driscoll leading us,” said head coach Andrew Jackson said of starting the postseason.
“This is the first tournament game for virtually every player on our roster, so we can’t play nervous. But I don’t think they’re afraid; they’re prepared and ready to take the next step.”
In its first year moving up to Division 2, Marblehead lost in regulation to only two opponents this winter: Beverly (3 times) and Winthrop (twice). They’ll roll four lines and six defensemen out against the Hillies, a team that finished sixth out of seven teams in the Merrimack Valley/Dual County League Division 2 standings. Should they prevail, Marblehead would meet second-seeded North Reading in the quarterfinals Friday in Stoneham (5 p.m.).
St. John’s Prep coach Kristian Hanson figures it’ll be a low scoring game when his club meets the Spy Ponders Wednesday at O’Brien Rink in Woburn (8 p.m.). Arlington allowed just 38 goals this winter, and for a team that’s had difficulty scoring at times, Hanson’s Eagles will need to make their shots count.
“I think this year, more than any other, you can’t be disappointed not making the Super 8. Based on our record, we were placed where we deserved to be placed,” said Hanson. “The Division 1 tournament is certainly going to be a challenge for us; right off the bat we get the No. 2 seed. We’re definitely the underdog.”
In Division 3 North, upstart Salem won five of seven games in late January into mid-February to secure a playoff berth under second-year head coach Teddy Hanley. They’ll face the Middies (11-7-2) Thursday for the right to meet No. 2 Northeast Regional in the quarterfinals Sunday.