BEVERLY — It was late July into early August, right after a fundraiser at the city’s Franco-American Club, that Justin Shairs started getting a plethora of phone calls and text messages from the young men on his Beverly High hockey team.
They all wanted to know the same thing: was head coach Bobby Gilligan all right, and would he be back and able to coach them that winter?
“A lot of the kids saw Bob at the fundraiser for him that night, and some of them were really distraught,” admitted Shairs, the Panthers’ top assistant. “They were genuinely concerned. We all were.”
Fast forward 20 months and Gilligan has not only beaten cancer — for the second time in four years, mind you — but also has his team on the cusp of doing something the Garden City has never seen.
Top-seeded Beverly High (21-1-1) will meet Medfield (18-3-3) for the Division 2 state championship Sunday night at the TD Garden in Boston (7:45 p.m.). The Panther icemen have never reached the title game before, and a city that has suddenly become hockey-crazed plans on coming out in droves to see if they can make history.
A former Beverly High star defenseman and BHS Hall of Famer (Class of 1972), Gilligan has his team 45 minutes away from achieving everlasting glory.
“It’s been tremendous for him — and wonderful for me to watch this happen to him,” said his wife of 33 years, Kathy. “Bob knew this group was special and that it ended too quickly last year (with a first round upset loss), so what’s happened this season has been so wonderful. He feels so fortunate to still be behind the bench, coaching these boys. The players and the coaches, Justin, Ryan (Shairs), Jay (Lantych), Mike (Bocuzzi) and Paul (Munzing), they’ve all been fantastic through all of it.”