By Phil Stacey
---- — You might recall hearing about the 2012-13 high school hockey team that had an 18-1-1 regular season, earned the top seed in the playoffs — and was promptly upset in their first playoff game by a team that went on a wild run to the sectional final.
Actually, it happened to two different schools.
Who just happen to be playing each other tomorrow night for the Division 2 state championship.
A year removed from painful early postseason defeats, both Beverly High (21-1-1) and the South champions from Medfield (18-3-3) will play in the last of six title games at the TD Garden in Boston (7:45 p.m.) tomorrow night, each looking for their program’s first state hockey crown.
“We had the same thing happen to us in Division 3 South last year that Beverly had happen to them in Division 2 North,” said Medfield’s 36-year-old Toby Carlow, who has been the Warriors’ head coach for seven seasons. “We have a lot of kids back from that team this year; same with them. And like Beverly, this is the first time our school has made the final.
“Beverly’s gotten a lot of press all season and rightfully so; they’re a very good team, have earned their spot and worked hard. And they have to know we didn’t get here by accident, either. We’re going to the Garden to hopefully play our best game.”
In its first season competing at the Division 2 level, Carlow’s team has defeated, in order, Quincy (6-2), Martha’s Vineyard (3-1), Oliver Ames (3-0) and Canton (3-2) to capture the South.
Seeded third coming into the playoffs, the Warriors have now scored 94 goals on the year while surrendering just 38 and are 10-1-2 in their last 13 games.
“Being new to Division 2, if you can sneak up on anybody in this day and age with all the information that’s out there, I guess that might be us,” said Carlow, who played high school hockey in Burrillville, R.I. before matriculating to UMass-Boston, where he continued his career before having a cup of coffee in the minor leagues.
“A lot of (offensive) balance, that’s been our key this year. It’s the first year we’ve really been spread out that way; in the past we’ve been a one-line team and not as deep as you need to be to have (playoff) success. This year we’ve got two good lines of six forwards who score consistently for us and a third line we can put out in any situation. Having that has allowed us to have the success we’ve had.”
First line senior right wing Justin Hirschfeld had four goals during the regular season, but has ramped up his game in the state tournament had has buried five tallies. “He’s picked a great time to explode and play his best hockey,” said Carlow.
Junior center Jack Scannell has 16 goals (4 in the postseason) and a similar number of assists. Sophomore Matt Treiber (14 goals), seniors Pat Lawler (11), Ben Ruzzo (10), Matt Dresens (9) and defenseman Matt Crowell (9) and another sophomore, John MacLean (9) are all dangerous scoring threats.
Crowell skates with partner Will Murphy on the Medfield blue line, with senior Rob Treiber and sophomore Nigel Reiff making up the second pair. Senior netminder Dan Graham has played his best hockey in late February and into March, having allowed just 25 goals this winter and sports an excellent 1.53 goals-against average.
“Dan’s not a kid who’ll break his stick over the net if one gets by him,” said Carlow. “He’s controlled and calm. And he doesn’t flop around; he’s very fundamentally sound.”
Because the South final was held this past Sunday, Carlow was able to come up to the Tsongas Arena in Lowell on Monday night and watch Beverly dismantle Tewksbury, 9-1, for the North crown. Needless to say, he was impressed by what he witnessed.
“They’re extremely talented offensively,” he said, “and from what we could tell, they’re just as talented defensively (Beverly went more than 20 minutes without allowing Tewksbury a shot on goal). We know that if we let them have time and space, they’re going to work and make plays. They have the talented forwards to do that.”
Coming off of a career-defining game with four goals and an assist in the North final, Connor Irving (53 points) leads the Beverly attack, having scored seven goals and an assist in the Panthers’ three playoff wins. He’s got plenty of help from fellow sharpshooters such as Graham Doherty (17 goals, 33 points), Jake Straw (10-7-17), Kevin Lally (4-11-15), Jesse MacLauglin (9-6-15), J.J. Bachini (6-12-18) and Ryan Santo (5-9-14), among others.
The quartet of defensemen Nick Albano (team-high 35 assists and 43 total points), Jack Morency and senior captains Sean Munzing and Matt Hamor are minute munchers who rarely allow a shot to get through to junior goaltender Tim Birarelli (19-1-1, .128 GAA, .926 save percentage, 5 shutouts).
“Obviously, we’re going in not knowing all that much about them aside from what we saw (Monday),” said Carlow. “That’s both good and bad; good because you don’t take anything for granted against them, but bad because you just don’t know.”
Speed is a teamwide trait of both teams; so is staying cool under pressure and finding a way to succeed. When the bright lights shine tomorrow night and the state title is at stake, Carlow says the outcome will be decided as much by each team’s mental state as physical performance.
“We have to make the right plays or Beverly will make us pay,” he said. “We can’t allow an odd-man break or anything like that.
“Bottom line is they’re dressing 22 guys and so are we, and neither of us have been on this stage before. Both teams will have to find a way to deal with that.”
The squad that’s able to do that better than their foes will have themselves a Garden party by night’s end.
1st line: Ryan Santo-Connor Irving-Jesse MacLaughlin
2nd line: Teddy Leathersich-Graham Doherty-*Brendan Boyle
3rd line: J.J. Bachini-Kevin Lally-Jake Straw
(* if Boyle can’t go, look for Ross Wahl in his spot.)
1st defense: Nick Albano-Matt Hamor
2nd defense: Jack Morency-Sean Munzing
Goalie: Tim Birarelli
Head coach: Bob Gilligan
1st line: Matt Treiber-Pat Lawler-Justin Hirschfeld
2nd line: John MacLean-Jack Scannell-Ben Ruzzo
3rd line: Matt Dresens-Tyler Hagan-Lou Cappucci
(Brett Thomas is the 10th forward)
1st defense: Matt Crowell-Will Murphy
2nd defense: Rob Treiber-Nigel Reiff
Goalie: Dan Graham
Head coach: Toby Carlow