By Phil Stacey
---- — Marblehead has played Beverly twice so far this season.
Twice they have lost to the unbeaten Panthers.
The Headers know they’ll play at least one more regular season game against Beverly three weeks from today (Jan. 29) in a 7 p.m. tilt at Salem State. And you’d better believe they’d love to face them a fourth time — in a win-or-go-home scenario in the Division 2 North playoffs.
Both clubs are virtual locks to have their postseason dance cards punched soon; Beverly (8-0-1) needs just three points to qualify and could do so as early as Monday when it plays Wakefield at the Talbot Rink in Gloucester. Marblehead (5-3) has a 22-game regular season schedule and thus needs 22 points to qualify, but it shouldn’t require much heavy lifting.
It’s easy to forget that the Headers, in their first season moving up from a Division 3 club to a Division 2 squad, are relatively young with almost half of its roster experiencing a varsity baptism-by-fire this season.
Sure, the team’s four captains (left wing Tom Koopman, center Dean Fader and defensemen Liam Gillis and Trevor Gelineau) are veterans, as is fellow senior forward Erik Powers. Others, such as sophomore twin brothers Matt and Kyle Koopman (a center and defenseman, respectively) and senior goaltenders Harrison Young and Myles Barry earned their varsity stripes a season ago.
The rest of the other starting unit, however (starters meaning 9 forwards, 6 defensemen and 2 goalies), however, are green; two are freshmen (first line right wing Braden Haley and defenseman Alex Delvento) and the others — sophomores Tim Kalinowski, Owen Picariello and Colin Daly up front, junior Bryan Cohn on defense, senior wing Chris Cormier and sophomore P.J. Roy on the blueline— had either limited minutes a year ago or no experience with the big club before December.
That’s what makes these Headers so intriguing; they’ve battled a seasoned Beverly squad twice to the final horn; once having taken a 3-0 first period lead before squandering it; then rallying from a three-goal third period deficit with a pair of strikes, only to come up one tally short.
Think of it this way: Marblehead knows they can play with Beverly. It has scored seven goals in two games against the Orange-and-Black; the rest of Beverly’s seven foes have scored a combined 5 goals in seven games against them.
But can they beat Beverly?
That question will be answered in three weeks — and possibly in the state playoffs come March.
Too early to say it’s crunch time for the 2-5 Peabody High hockey team?
Not if the Tanners want to fulfill their playoff aspirations it isn’t.
”We have to grab points wherever we can,” Peabody head coach Mark Leonard said after his team’s 4-3 setback of Danvers last weekend at Salem State. “We’ve got a real tough stretch coming up, and it’s at the point where we need to find a way to get points any way possible.”
Peabody, which entertains Marblehead tonight at the McVann-O’Keefe Rink (5:15 p.m.), has lost two straight decisions in which it held third period leads: 2-1 at Methuen (a 4-2 setback) and the aforementioned Danvers game, in which the Tanners led 3-1 with 10 minutes to play but fell, 4-3.
It’s a team that has speed in the forward lines and big defensemen protecting their own end, but also one in need of a killer instinct over the final 15 minutes of play. Yes, they’re a little banged up ... but as Leonard said following Saturday’s loss, that’s not an excuse. If the posteason is their goal, the Tanners have to find a way to close out their foes.
Danvers High captain Matt Flynn looks at junior liner James Curley and sees a glimpse of his past.
”He’s just like I was my sophomore year,” Flynn said of Curley, who has scored in back-to-back games for the Falcons. “He’s a real worker, always going into the corners and battling. He’s the kind of guy you love to have on your team.”
Curley has been skating on an all-junior line with center Sean Lundergan and right wing Kyle Cahill. He knocked in his own third period rebound to tie Peabody, 3-3 (in a game the Falcons eventually won, 4-3), then tallied again Monday as the Falcons blanked host Lynnfield, 2-0.
”James isn’t a big guy, but he’s a real hustle guy. He’s perfect for that line,” said head coach Kevin Brown.
”Curley had the shift of the night on his goal (against Peabody). He made a couple of hustle plays, then came back and made that play to get a huge goal. He’s a kid that provides energy.”
The Falcons, who play in Gloucester tonight against the host Fishermen at the Dorothy Talbot Rink (6 p.m.), are still in the embryonic stages of an eight-game stretch in which they’ll be playing away from the Rockett Arena in Salem, their home base. Wearing their blue road uniforms for eight consecutive games, the Falcons have far and away the longest such streak of any North Shore hockey team this winter.
Tonight’s contest in Gloucester is the second in an eight-game road trek. The others, in order, are Saturday at Concord-Carlisle (4 p.m.), next Monday in Wilmington against St. John’s Prep (8 p.m.), a week from tonight in Winthrop (6:10 p.m.), next Saturday at Acton-Boxboro (5 p.m.), Monday, Jan. 20 at Amesbury (1:05 p.m.) and Wednesday, Jan. 22 at Stoneham (6 p.m.). Three of those games (St. John’s, Acton-Boxboro and Stoneham) are against Division 1 opponents.
The Blue-and-White will finally return home to Salem State on Saturday, Jan. 25 when they meet Beverly in a 1 p.m. contest. Following that matchup, they’ll have just two more home dates in the regular season, both against Northeastern Conference North foes: Saturday, Feb. 1 vs. Gloucester (2:50 p.m.) and Wednesday, Feb. 12 vs. Marblehead (5 p.m.).
Good to see the Salem Witches not only winning games — they’ll look to even their record at 3-3-1 if they can defeat visiting Lynn this afternoon at Salem State (4:30 p.m.) — but also tightening up defensively. The shots-against are way down from past seasons as Salem is clearing the puck better, getting it out of its own end and winning 50/50 battles along the boards and in the neutral zone.
Among this team-wide momentum building, several Witches are stepping up their games considerably, said head coach Ted Hanley. One of them is senior Danny Heck; not only did he score the winning goal in a 3-2 triumph over Revere last weekend, but the senior forward is showing energy and leadership while also being his team’s top scorer (4 goals, 6 points).
The Blue Line Report, a column on North Shore high school hockey, appears each Wednesday during the winter sports season in The Salem News. Contact sports editor Phil Stacey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.