Facing 85 mile-an-hour slapshots from close range, putting your masked head in the middle of a swirl of skate blades and swinging sticks, standing as the last line of defense for an entire hockey program — those things aren’t tough.
Tim Birarelli knows this.
Tough is seeing your 44-year-old father, your role model, your hero, stricken with liver cancer. Tough is watching the man you’ve tried to emulate -- lobstering at a young age on your own boat like he did -- go from a gregarious, always-happy guy to one constantly exhausted from the treatment coursing through his system.
Tough is seeing your mom watch her husband suffer. Tough is having to be as much a father figure as older sibling to your two younger brothers, 13-year-old Tommy and 10-year-old Trey. Tough is not knowing when, or if, it will ever get better for your dad.
Birarelli, a 17-year-old junior goaltender for Beverly High regarded as one of the best at his position in Eastern Mass. high school hockey circles, deals with it the same wy he approaches the sport he loves: Take it one day at a time, be thankful, and don’t look too far ahead.
“Some days are good, some days are bad. It’s a lot of ups and downs,” admitted Birarelli, who leads the unbeaten Panthers (7-0-1) into battle against Northeastern Conference North rival Marblehead (5-2) for the second time in eight days tonight at Salem State’s Rockett Arena (6 p.m.).
“Hockey is my escape, two hours every day where I can just not think about anything else happening off the ice. It’s my ‘me’ time to have some fun. Being around my friends, doing what I love ... it’s a release.”
While the health of his father, Joseph, weighs heavily on his mind, it has not affected Birarelli when the puck his dropped. Coming into tonight’s contest against the Headers, he sports a 6-0-1 record with a 1.05 goals-against average and .934 save percentage to go with three shutouts (all tops on the North Shore). He began the season with 11 straigh shutout periods.