By Phil Stacey
---- — SALEM — They’ve already played twice this season and are scheduled for a third meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 29 before what is sure to be another jam-packed Rockett Arena crowd.
And who’s to say the Beverly and Marblehead hockey teams, two of the top squads in Division 2 hockey in the entire Commonwealth, couldn’t meet for a fourth time in the postseason? Say, in the North final?
That’s premature, of course, and wouldn’t happen for another two months. But from what we’ve seen from the first six periods that the Panthers and Headers have squared off this winter, it would have the makings of a classic.
The Panthers, who got two goals and an assist from junior right wing Jesse MacLaughlin, toppled Marblehead for the second time this season, 4-3, Saturday night. MacLaughlin’s linemate, Connor Irving, assisted on both of his goals while scoring on a feed from MacLaughlin, and junior Tim Birarelli stopped 28 shots in the victory.
“We’ve got pretty good chemistry together,” said Irving of he and MacLaughlin, who hadn’t skated previously this season and were only paired up in the fall league hockey for the first time. “It’s like we know where the other one is going to be all the time.”
Skating with arguably the Northeastern Conference’s most skilled player, the 17-year-old MacLaughlin said his motto was simple.
“Carpe diem — seize the day,” he chuckled.
Unbeaten Beverly (8-0-1) needed all of the offense it got because Marblehead never packed it in. Even after MacLaughlin’s second goal, coming just 25 seconds into the third period to give the Panthers a 4-1 lead, the Headers weren’t fazed; instead, they went on to dominate the rest of the contest territorially and shot-wise while getting within a goal before the final horn sounded.
“Marblehead is the type of team with players who are never going to back down or give up,” said Beverly head coach Bob Gilligan, whose team was outshot (31-28) for the first time this season. “They put a lot of pressure on us in the third and had us running around at the end. We needed Timmy to make some real big saves for us down the stretch.”
The biggest of those was left pad save on Marblehead senior captain Tom Koopman with 13.7 seconds to play; Koopman took a feed from his brother, sophomore Matt Koopman (2 goals) and went forehand-to-backhand out front, but Birarelli flashed his leg out and denied the chance.
“To hold that team to 28 shots, with a lot of those shots from the perimeter, says something about the way we played. And I thought (senior goaltender) Myles Barry had his best game of the year,” Marblehead (5-3) head coach Bobby Jackson said.
“However, we need a full 45-minute effort, and we didn’t play well in the second period. It seemed like when we made a mistake or didn’t play as hard as we can, bang! We gave up a goal.”
Tied at one after goals by defenseman Kyle Koopman for the hosts and winger Brenden Boyle for Beverly, the Headers started the second period on a 5-on-3 power play for 52 seconds. But they only put two shots on Birarelli without scoring, and four-and-a-half minutes in Irving and MacLaughlin worked some give-and-go passing that resulted in an Irving score from the slot.
“We didn’t process what we should have been processing (on the 2-man advantage),” said Jackson. “We were trying to do too much individual stuff.”
MacLaughlin then scored with 40 seconds to go before the second intermission, making it 3-1. “(Barry) was looking for a fastball but I gave him a circle change,” MacLaughlin said, using baseball paralance to describe his 5-hole goal.
After McLaughlin’s second goal to begin the third, Marblehead put the pressure on immediately. Matt Koopman’s pretty goal out front, where he took a pass from his older brother in the slot and pivoted to his right before roofing a shot bar down, cut his team’s deficit to 4-2 with just under 14 minutes left. He struck again a little over two minutes later after receiving a feed from his twin and flinging a quick snapshot from off the left wing boards that snuck between Birarelli’s pads.
“Marblehead’s got some kids who can really fly and shoot the puck well,” said Gilligan, “Fortunately, I think we tired them out a bit in the second period with our forecheck and got ourselves the lead. But you can never rest easy against those guys.”