By Matt Williams
---- — LOWELL — The Garden City is getting ready for a Garden Party.
The Beverly High hockey team used a dominant second period to blitz Tewksbury, 9-1, at Tsongas Center yesterday. The Panthers seized the program’s first Division 2 North title and a earned a spot in the Division 2 state final Sunday at TD Garden in a championship game that was anything but garden variety.
Top-seeded Beverly (21-1-1) scored the last nine goals of the game to dispatch the No. 3 Redmen (17-4-2). Senior captain Connor Irving had four goals and one assist, Ryan Santo handed out four helpers and nine Beverly skaters had at least one point.
The Panthers will face Division 2 South champion Medfield Sunday at the Garden (time TBA) for the state championship.
The Northeastern Conference champs had endured early playoff exits the last two years, and skating off the Tsongas ice with the Division 2 North trophy gave them a feeling of vindication.
“We were so close, but so far away those last two years. It just seemed like anything we did wasn’t good enough,” said Irving. “This year we’re doing it. It feels great.”
For the third time in as many postseason games, Beverly trailed 1-0. Tewskbury’s lead lasted 58 seconds, and once the Panthers got going they never took their collective skates off the gas pedal.
“This feels awesome,” said senior defenseman Matt Hamor, a two-year captain. “This is our last chance to do it and we’ve been leaving it all on the ice.”
Jake Straw erased Tewksbury’s lead, and 170 seconds after that Jesse MacLaughlin buried the game-winner on a slick cross-ice feed from Irving.
Then with seconds left in the first, Santo knocked down a loose puck at center ice and sent Irving in all alone on Tewksbury goalie Kyle Paquette. The gifted centerman finished for a stunning 3-1 lead after the first 15 minutes.
“Connor has a sense of when that ice is going to open up and when he sees it he goes,” said Beverly head coach Bob Gilligan. “He’s so strong, and his edges are as good as anybody’s.”
Tewksbury needed the first goal of the second to get off the mat, and the Panthers had no interest in giving it to them.
Instead, they rattled off five straight goals to take away any hope of a Redmen comeback.
“We stressed forechecking, and those first two shifts of the second period set the tone,” said Gilligan. “Our cycle started to wear them out. We wanted to get the puck deep, tire them out and those shifts put them on their heels.”
At 5:54 of the second, Nick Albano (goal, two assists) fired one in from the point to make it 4-1.
That touched off a run of three Beverly goals over the next 4:07, including a power play tally by Irving in which he artfully glided down the ice and roofed a backhand high, and a goal in tight by Hamor.
The rout continued when completed his hat trick with 3:38 left in the period.
He added a shorthanded goal with 21.6 seconds left in the second as the Orange-and-Black led 8-1 after two.
Tewksbury didn’t have a shot on goal in the second period, as Beverly’s forecheck and defense dominated the puck.
“We had two guys in deep and the third guy out. We never got caught down low because the kids played smart,” said Gilligan.
Beverly goaltender Tim Birarelli earned his third postseason win with 12 saves, and senior Bryce Mitchell made three stops in about 10 minutes of action in the third period.
Beverly’s scoresheet read like a fantasy lineup: Besides a five point outburst by Irving, Santo added four helpers, Albano, MacLaughlin and J.J. Bachini each had a goal and two assists, Jake Straw had a goal and one assist, Graham Doherty had a pair of assists and Jack Morency had one assist.
“We have some skilled players, and when they get open ice, you saw what they can do,” said Gilligan.
Much like they weren’t content with a two or three goal lead last night, the Panthers aren’t fully satisfied with a North title.
“There’s one more to go, and it’s a big one,” Irving said of Sunday’s impending state final. “We know we have to finish this off.”
Beverly 9, Tewksbury 1
Division 2 North final
at Tsongas Center, Lowell
Tewksbury: 1 0 0 — 1
Beverly: 3 5 1 — 9
First period: T, Jack Cash (Ryan Petti, Colin Quinn), 8:07; B, Jake Straw (Jack Morency), JJ Bachini), 9:05; B, Jesse MacLaughlin (Connor Irving, Ryan Santo), 11:55, B Irving (Santo, MacLaughlin), 14:57.
Second Period: B, Nick Albano (Matt Hamor, Bacchini), 5:54; B, Irving (Graham Doherty, Albano), ppg, 8:12; B, Hamor (Straw, Doherty), 10:01; B, Irving (Santo, MacLaughlin), 11:22; B, Irving (Santo), shg, 14:39.
Third Period: Bacchini (Albano), 1:38.
Saves: T, Kyle Paquette 13; B, Tim Birarelli 12, Bryce Mirchell 3.
Records: T, 17-4-2; B, 21-1-1.