, Salem, MA


March 11, 2014

On Hockey: Dominant win means a Garden party is in store for Beverly this Sunday

LOWELL — It’s been 13,518 days since a Beverly High hockey team played a game where the Boston Bruins call home.

Come Sunday, that interminable streak will come to an end — because the Garden City Boys are headed back to the Garden.

It was simply an awesome display of speed, power and defensive dominance at the Tsongas Center last night. The top-seeded Panthers, behind four goals and an assist from senior captain Connor Irving, dismantled Tewksbury, 9-1, to capture its first Division 2 North title.

“We’ve been aware for a long time now that we’ve had the skill set and ability to do this,” senior left wing Ryan Santo, after dishing out a career high four assists, said. “We just had to execute. Tonight ... this whole season, really ... we executed.”

The Panthers scored on nine of their 23 shots, including putting up a 5-spot in the middle stanza to turn an 3-1 contest into an 8-1 rout. Beverly didn’t allow a single shot on goaltender Tim Birarelli from 10:53 of the first period until 72 seconds had passed in the third period -- a stretch of 20 minutes and 19 seconds of shot-free hockey. The Panthers, for the third time in three postseason games, allowed their opponents to score first but never batted an eye, responding 58 seconds later and rolling from there.

Now, something the Panthers (21-1-1) have openly talked about for two seasons has finally come to fruition: they’ll play for the school’s first-ever state hockey championship Sunday at TD Garden in Boston against South champion Medfield (18-4-2).

Time and time again this winter, the Panthers have struck with a flurry of goals at key junctures of games to leave their opponents left wondering exactly what tornado just blew through the rink. Tewksbury learned that the hard way over the latter half of the first period as the Beverly Express rolled out goals by Jake Straw, MacLaughlin and Irving in under six minutes to take that two-goal lead into the break.

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