By Phil Stacey
NEWBURYPORT — It was high school hockey the way it was meant to be played.
Just without any scoring.
For 45 minutes the Beverly High hockey team tried to put the puck past Newburyport goaltender Alex Buckley, but the senior captain wouldn’t give an inch. When the final horn sounded, the visiting Panthers were still unbeaten but had to settle for a scoreless tie with the gritty Clippers in a playoff-type atmosphere at the Graf Rink.
“I love playing in games like this,” said Beverly junior captain Connor Irving, who rang a shot off the top crossbar early in the second period, one of several prime scoring chances for the Orange-and-Black. “It was back and forth, great skating and great competition. We did everything we wanted to except score.”
Beverly (9-0-1) carried the play with its strong forechecking, particularly in the third period when they ratcheted up the pressure and put nine shots on Buckley, six of which were excellent scoring bids. However, the three-year starter was cool between the pipes and turned them all aside.
At the other end of the ice, a stifling defensive effort in front of netminder Tim Biarelli (12 saves) resulted in no shots on goal for the Clippers (5-1-4) over the final 15 minutes. It was Biarelli’s fourth shutout and Beverly’s fifth of the season.
However, sophomore forward Ben Ventura almost sent the hosts home happy when he snuck past Biarelli’s left pad, only to push his backhander off the near post.
“A little adversity can be a good thing,” said Beverly head coach Bob Gilligan, not at all dissatisfied with the way his team played. “It’s what you’re going to face in life and you have to learn to fight through it so it’ll make you stronger down the road.
“That was a great skate for us tonight against a terrific team. You hate the tie, but you have to love that both teams played very hard and very physical. I’d rather see hockey played like that every night than some of the games we’ve had lately. Both goalies were terrific and nobody quit, right down to the very last shift.”
There was a great flow and pace to the game, which didn’t feature a power play for either team (the only penalties called were matching minors midway through the second period). The tempo was high on both sides with big hits, plenty of blocked shots and 50/50 pucks that led to scoring chances.
Newburyport, whose only loss has come against the state’s top ranked team, Springfield Cathedral, had trouble at times clearing the puck out of its own zone. But all in all, the Clippers fought the more heralded Panthers for the full 45 minutes.
“When we play our game, we can play with anyone. And that’s as good a team as we’ve played all season; their record speaks for itself,” head coach Paul Yameen said. “They’re fast and physical, like we like to play, and there was a good flow to the game; the referees let the boys play. It was two great teams just getting after one another.”
Beverly, which jumps right back into action tonight against non-league foe Cambridge at Salem State (6:20 p.m.), will undoubtedly learn from last night’s contest, said captain Andrew Irving.
“This shows us what we have to do to compete against the top teams,” said Irving, who had six of his team’s 22 shots. “It’s frustrating when you see rebounds that you can’t get to over and over again, so you have to find a way to fight through that and keep going after it.
“What this shows is that the better teams can play with us. It’s up to us to learn from it and keep working hard in practice so we can be better next time.”