By Phil Stacey
---- — STONEHAM — They will talk about this game for as long as there is high school hockey played.
In a contest that immediately becomes an instant classic, Beverly High got shootout goals from junior Nick Albano and captain Connor Irving while junior goaltender Tim Birarelli stopped four of Danvers’ five shootout attempts as the top-seeded Panthers prevailed, 2-1, before a packed-to-the-gills crowd at Stoneham Arena.
"Wow. Now that was a hockey game, without a doubt," said Birarelli inside the jubliant Beverly locker room afterwards. "Danvers, they just played us so tough. They were really well prepared. I'm just so happy that we were able to get the win."
Danvers High goaltender Alex Taylor had a marvelous game, making a season high 41 stops against constant Beverly pressure. The eighth-seeded Falcons (11-11-1), a huge underdog coming in, executed their game plan to near perfection and took Beverly (19-1-1) to two 6-minute overtime periods and into the shootout before their season ultimately came to an end.
Albano put a deke on Taylor and scored on a backhand on Beverly’s first shootout attempt, and Irving did likewise on Beverly’s third try after making a move, holding the puck and waiting for Taylor to commit before knocking the disc into the cage.
"I didn't think I was going to score in the shootout," said Albano, who fired a multitude of shots on Taylor during regulation, but to no avail. "But Timmy told me what to do: go blocker side on (Taylor) and pull the puck back before shooting a backhand. It worked perfectly."
Kyle Cahill had the Danvers goal in the shootout, sliding one under Birarelli (19 saves) to keep his team alive. But captain Kevin Hodgkins’ shot rang off the right post on Danvers’ final shootout attempt, sending the Beverly players and fans into delirium.
Beverly will now face Lincoln-Sudbury in the Division 2 North semifinals Monday at the Chelmsford Forum (time TBA). The fourth-seeded Warriors (13-2-5) defeated Winthrop last night, 2-1.
"They're a really good playoff team. They just bring it," Irving said of Danvers. "They matched our intensity the entire way. The biggest thing for us was not getting frustrated; it was all positives on the bench and guys believing we'd find a way to get it done."
Danvers head coach Kevin Brown, whose club knocked off top-seeded Beverly in the quarterfinals a year ago, said while the ending was difficult, the overall effort from his players was to be lauded.
"I'm just proud of who we were tonight," said Brown. "We played with a purpose, our leaders stepped up and every one of our players left everything they had on the ice."
Cahill got the underdog Falcons on the scoreboard first, beating Birarelli far post just 3:14 into the game for his third goal of the season. Linemate James Curley (who was wearing a 1920s style bowler hat before the game) earned the assist.
But Beverly responded immediately as Irving ripped twine for the 17th time this winter. Taking a pass from left wing Ryan Santo, he bore down on Taylor and beat him cleanly to tie the score. It was the 187th point of Irving’s BHS career.
For the rest of the first period and all of the second, the Falcons stuck to their game plan of slowing the game down and hitting anything in an orange-and-cream-colored sweater any chance they got. Danvers dumped the puck whenever there was trouble, clogged passing lanes and made it a chore for Beverly to bring the puck through the neutral zone. Offensively, they were content to chip the puck out of their zone and pick their spots to make a rush offensively, looking for odd-man rushes.
"Our defensive philsophy was strong," said Brown.
But Beverly steadfastly refused to get drawn into a trap or take foolish penalties. Instead, it stuck to its own game plan of trying to use its speed along the walls, get the puck in deep and generate offense from there.
Birarelli came up with a big save with three minutes to go in the middle stanza to keep it tied, darting left-to-right to deny Falcons’ freshman winger Robert Tibbetts on the doorstep.
For a moment it looked like Beverly took the lead at the tail end of an early third period power play, but Taylor spun around and gloved the puck before it crossed the goal line. Exactly a minute later, Hodgkins sprung himself free for a breakaway, but his deke and backhand bid were turned away by the right pad of Birarelli for his game’s biggest save.
Taylor was sublime in the third period, making a total of 18 saves. He helped turn aside two Beverly power plays (stopping a total of 6 shots on them) while his teammates blocked shot after shot.
"(Taylor) played out of his trees," ackwoledged his counterpart, Birarelli. "Some of those saves, I was like 'How did he get to that?'"
"When the game is bigger, Alex rises to the top," said Brown. "(Assistant) Coach (Kevin) McNeill told him earlier this week he was going to have the game of his life -- and he did. He should be proud of what he did."
Birarelli absolutely robbed Hodgkins three minutes into overtime after the former took a pass from behind the net and fired a one-timer from just outside the blue paint. But Birarelli didn’t panic, stayed square to the shot and turned it aside.
"You don't even have time to think in that situation," said Birarelli. "You just react."
"We all have faith in Timmy," added Albano. "That save there was just huge."
In the second overtime, a 4-on-4, 6-minute session, Taylor made the best — and last — of his 41 saves when Irving broke in all alone, but the junior netminder stonewalled Beverly's all-time leading scorer with his right pad.
Beverly 2, Danvers 1
at Stoneham Arena
Danvers: 1 0 0 0 0 — 1
Beverly: 1 0 0 0 0 — 2
First period: D, Kyle Cahill (James Curley), 3:14; B, Connor Irving (Ryan Santo), 3:43.
Second Period: No scoring.
Nicol alborno connor irving.
Third Period: No Scoring.
First OT: No Scoring.
Second OT: No Scoring.
Shootout: B, Nick Albano, Irving; D, Cahill
Saves: B, Tim Birarelli 19; D, Alex Taylor 41.
Records: B, 19-1-1; D, 11-11-1.