By Phil Stacey
---- — NORTH BILLERICA — Nick Albano picked the perfect time to have a career night.
The top-seeded Beverly High hockey team scored five unanswered goals, with Albano, a junior defenseman, Albano assisting on the entire quintet of strikes, and rolled into the Division 2 North finals for the first time in program history by defeating Lincoln-Sudbury last night, 5-1, before a packed house at the Chelmsford Forum.
"I'd say we were on tonight," smiled Albano, who increased his North Shore-leading assist total to 33 points this season. "We were a lot more relaxed and just concentrated on playing our game."
Senior captain Connor Irving scored a pair of goals, his team-leading 18th and 19th of the season, while Brenden Boyle, Kevin Lally and Teddy Leathersich also scored for the winners. Tim Birarelli earned his 18th win of the season in net as the junior finished with 18 saves.
The victory means that Beverly (20-1-1) will meet No. 3 seed Tewksbury — a 3-2 winner over Marblehead in last night’s first game — Monday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell (6 p.m.). The winner of that game will play for the Division 2 state championship at the TD Garden in Boston against the South champion on Sunday, March 16.
Many of the Panthers’ 10 seniors played against Tewksbury three years ago in the Div. 2 North semifinals, a game won by the eventual state champion Redmen (6-1).
"All (last) summer on, the whole team has been focused on doing this in our senior season," said senior center Kevin Lally.
This makes the second time in Beverly High hockey history it has been among the last four teams standing in its division; the 1972 Panthers reached the Division 1 state semifinals at the old Boston Garden before falling to Arlington — a game in which current BHS head coach was a star defenseman for the Panthers.
After falling behind just 59 seconds into the game after Lincoln-Sudbury’s Myles Cohen roofed a rebound, it was virtually all Beverly all the time for the rest of the game.
"From the onset, we said we were going to play physical hockey tonight. I think we took them out of their game," said Gilligan. "We forechecked them ... and our kids were really going. We used our skating legs, got the puck in deep and played our game.
"For us, it was all about keeping our compsure (after L-S scored early). They were getting tired by the end of the first period and we did a real nice job wearing them down with our speed. I think our kids outworked them."
The Panthers tied the contest at the 5-minute mark when Boyle, a junior right wing who was stationed at the far post, pounced on a Graham Doherty rebound and easily backhanded it into the empty cage for his fifth goal of the season.
Just 15 seconds later, the Orange-and-Black took a lead they’d never relinquish as Lally, the team’s third line center, took a pass from defenseman Nick Albano (who had 3 first period assists), flew down the left wing boards and flung a shot on goal that beat Lincoln-Sudbury junior Derek Ashe cleanly through the 5-hole. Captain Matt Hamor also assisted Lally's tally, his fourth of the year.
"I looked at (Ashe) and he was going down low, so I threw him a changeup," said Lally.
The lead swelled to 3-1 at 10:31 of the opening period when Leathersich — in for the usual first line right wing Jessie MacLaughlin, who lost his skate blade on the previous shift — took a feed from Albano, cut towards the cage and slid the puck across to Irving, who easily rammed it past Ashe.
"Teddy filled in a big void for us in the offensive end," said Gilligan.
The Panthers’ checking line of Lally with wings Jake Straw and J.J. Bachini are normally matched up against their opponents’ top scoring line, but last night it was the Ryan Santo-Irving-MacLaughlin trio given that task. That trio not only did their jobs defensively but also wore down the Warriors’ Conor Lewis-Matt Jacobs-Eric Holden unit by forcing them to spend so much time in their own zone defending a constant Beverly barrage.
"It was probably our best forechecking game of the season," Lally acknowledged. "We really went after it."
Irving and the Panthers picked up right where they left off in the second period, adding to their lead just 19 seconds in. The senior centerman, who was robbed by an Ashe glove save right after the faceoff to begin the frame, got the better of the netminder seconds later when he tipped an Albano blast into the twine for a 4-1 advantage.
Capping off a brilliant night, Albano broke into the L-S zone on a 2-on-1 break with Leathersich on the left side and fed the junior winger with a perfect pass for a tap-in goal, making it 5-1 for the Garden City boys.
"This feels great, to be honest," said Albano, who now has 40 points on the season. "Now we can just go out and play our game and put all that other stuff (i.e., first round playoff losses the last two seasons) behind us."
Beverly 5, Lincoln-Sudbury 1
at Chelsmford Forum
Lincoln-Sudbury: 1 0 0 — 1
Beverly: 3 1 1 — 5
First period: LS, Myles Cohen (Ryan Dale, Matt Caso), :59; B, Brenden Boyle (Graham Doherty, Nick Albano), 5:00; B, Kevin Lally (Albano, Matt Hamor), 5:15; B, Connor Irving (Teddy Leathersich, Albano), 10:31;
Second Period: B, Irving (Albano), :19.
Third Period: B, Leathersich (Albano),
Saves: B, Tim Birarelli 18; LS, Derek Ashe 20, Justin Koulalis 10.
Records: B, 20-1-1; LS, 13-4-5