By Matt Williams
---- — GLOUCESTER — With two games scheduled in a span of about 17 hours, the Beverly High hockey team wanted to use plenty of players in last night’s season opener against Essex, Vermont.
It fit the bill perfectly that the night’s biggest goal came from the fourth line.
Sophomore Tyler Cloutman netted his first career varsity goal late in the second and the Panthers held off the Hornets, 4-1, at Talbot Rink.
Senior Connor Irving scored twice for Beverly (1-0), senior Bryce Mitchell made 12 saves and junior defenseman Nick Albano had three assists.
The Panthers don’t have much time to feel good about the win, as they host Peabody today at 12:30 at Salem State in the first meeting between the Northeastern Conference rivals since the Tanners scored an upset win in the 2013 Carlin Cup.
“It’s a happy thing to get that first win under the belt,” said Beverly coach Bob Gilligan. “We wanted to keep everybody fresh with this quick turnaround. I saw a lot of good things and a lot of things we’ll want to work on.”
Beverly was all over Essex (1-1) in the first period. The hosts, wearing new cream-colored jerseys, outshot the Hornets 14-3 in the opening frame and jumped ahead on goals by Jake Straw and Irving.
Straw’s marker, the first of the 2013-14 season on the North Shore, came as he tipped in a blast from Albano that was generated by Kevin Lally’s offensive zone faceoff win.
Then with only 42 seconds left in the first, Irving finished a 2-on-1 with winger Graham Doherty by putting it between Essex goalie Brock Paquette’s pads for a 2-0 lead.
Essex controlled the flow in the second by causing turnovers in the neutral zone. The Panthers seemed to have been lulled to sleep when Cloutman, a speedy sophomore, broke free for a 2-on-1 chance with junior Clinton Cabral. The duo passed back-and-forth twice before Cloutman finished for a 3-0 lead for the hosts with 5:03 left in the middle period.
“That’s the fourth line doing that for us,” Gilligan said. “We have a lot of depth and we were really able to take advantage of our speed.”
Essex’s Nathan Nelson made it 3-1 early in the third, and Beverly had to come up with two penalty kills to keep the Hornets from making it a one-goal game. Defensemen Matt Hamor, Sean Munzing and Jack Mornecy played particularly well in that stretch by blocking Hornet shots.
Irving, sprung for a breakaway by Albano’s outlet pass, finished by going high on Essex goalie Erik Short (five saves in the third period). It was the 50th goal of the centerman’s career, and at 4-1 put Beverly firmly in control.
“Connor’s stronger. Body-wise, he’s added strength and on top of that he has that natural speed. The way he accelerated up the middle of the ice on that last goal, that show what you’re dealing with,” said Gilligan. “The kid has legs.”
Doherty, Beverly’s leading goal scorer last year as a No. 2 center, looked mighty comfortable on Irving’s wing. Senior J.J. Bachini played well on the top line as well.
“J.J. might not have seen a lot of ice last year,” said Gilligan. “He’s a great kid and he’s worked hard. He’s going to fit right in with those guys.”
The Panthers skated a second line of Lally centering Straw and Ross Wahl, had Brendon Boyle centering Teddy Leathersich and Hunter Spencer on the third unit and Cloutman between Cabral and Jesse McLaughlin on the fourth.
All four units did a good job cycling the puck, thereby creating plenty of shooting lanes for the D: Albano, Hamor, Munzing and Morency.
“It was good. In a way we could’ve worked it up there even more than did because they were really boxing it in because of our speed,” Gilligan said.
Paquette made 17 saves for Essex, which went 16-2-2 in Vermont last year, over the first two periods.