By Phil Stacey
---- — SALEM — They are a very good high school hockey team — and they know it.
But they can certainly play much better than they have been in the early part of the season — and the members of the unbeaten Beverly High hockey team are well aware of that, too.
“We’re not where we should be, even this early in the season. But we’ll get there soon,” said senior captain Matt Hamor, a defenseman who helped the Panthers lock down arch rival Danvers, 3-0, Saturday afternoon at the Rockett Arena.
“We definitely have the potential, literally, to be one of the best teams out there. I think as the season goes on, we’ll pick up our game and find that.”
Junior netminder Tim Birarelli earned his second shutout in three starts this season while stopping 15 shots; he hasn’t allowed a goal in eight periods thus far. Senior center and captain Connor Irving took care of Beverly’s scoring needs by burying a power play tally late in the first period and adding a rebound goal a minute-and-a-half into the second. Kevin Lally completed the job with a shorthanded breakaway snipe.
The Beverly coaches, however, felt it was a “sloppy win”, according to head coach Bob Gilligan. That’s partly because of the way Danvers dogged the Panthers all over the ice and never let them get a comfortable lead, but also because of the home team’s lack of consistency.
“There were shifts where we looked OK, but not consistently enough,” said Gilligan, whose team has outscored its four foes 20-2. “Danvers is not the kind of team you want to let hang around.
“We’ll take the win, but we need a more consistent effort. There was a lot of circling (with the puck) in our own zone, a lot of starts and stops. Instead of looking for the home run pass, I’d rather see our guys play defense first and create offense off that. Don’t wind up for the big slapshot, but get off a quick snapshot to get the puck on net. Things like that.”
In an odd twist, morale was probably a bit better up the hall inside the Danvers locker room. Certainly the Blue-and-White would have preferred a win or even a tie, but the players were upbeat after the setback and head coach Kevin Brown said that his team’s effort was certainly abundant.
Lacking the offensive skill of their opponents, Danvers tried to slow down Beverly coming through the neutral zone and make it difficult for them to generate speed on the attack. The Panthers still got 30 shots off on junior goaltender Alex Taylor, but many of those came in spurts as the Falcons made them work.
“(Beverly) has some guys with skills who capitalized on some (chances). We had opportunities to make plays on their goals,” said Brown, whose team lost to Masconomet yesterday afternoon in Haverhill, 2-1. “But 5-on-5 I was happy with the way we played. We just have to keep working hard and keep getting that same effort.”
The Falcons did have a couple of scoring opportunities that the talented Birarelli thwarted. His best came in the first period when Danvers freshman Robert Tibbetts’ breakaway bid was turned aside by the big goalkeeper.
“They have some big bodies on defense that clog it up and don’t give up the blue line easily,” Brown said of Beverly.
With just 22.2 seconds until the first intermission it was Irving — who, ironically, wears No. 22 — who snapped the stalemate. Settled into the lower right circle, he took a one-time pass from defenseman Nick Albano and rifled a shot high over Taylor’s left shoulder for a 1-0 lead.
Irving then gathered in a J.J. Bachini (2 assists) dish in the slot and wristed one from the slot past Taylor for a 2-0 lead at 1:32 of the second period. A little over four minutes later, Lally broke up a pass in his own zone and raced up ice untouched, deked and scored for a man-down marker and 3-0 Panther lead.
Beverly is in action tonight against Division 1 Newburyport back at Salem State (5:30 p.m.); last season, the Panthers and Clippers played to a scoreless tie in Newburyport.
“Playing against a Division 1 team like that will make us raise our level up, said Hamor. “It’ll be a great test for us.”