By Phil Stacey Sports editor And Matt Williams, Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — BOSTON — Beverly High captain Connor Irving made a habit of handing out assists over the course of his record shattering career at Beverly High.
The senior had a run of goals in the playoffs, eight in all — including the game-winner in Sunday’s state final at TD Garden, a 2-1 triumph over Medfield. The actual assist on the winning goal came from defenseman Nick Albano, but Irving gave a symbolic assist to one of the Garden City’s most inspirational figures.
Pete Frates, the former St. John’s Prep and Boston College baseball star who is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neighbor of Beverly head coach Bobby Gilligan in the Centerville section of the city. Frates gave a motivational speech to the Panthers last winter and handed each member of this year’s team a red ‘Strike Out ALS’ shirt before the state final.
Irving is known in North Shore hockey circles for the turtleneck undershirt he usually wears under his shoulder pads, but in this case he made an exception.
“It was pretty hot at the Garden, so before the third period I lost the Under Armour and put Pete’s shirt on,” Irving said. “Then in the third period I scored the goal. Pete has to get some of the credit.”
Frates made the journey to TD Garden to watch his hometown Panthers win their first state title in person, watching from his wheelchair on the right of the Panthers’ bench. Beverly’s players made sure they pointed the state championship trophy in his direction when they took their victory lap around the Garden ice.
“It means a lot to us that he came in person,” said goalie Tim Birarelli. “It’s pretty amazing what he’s going through. He might be tired for a week after this, but he wanted to be here for us.”
It doesn’t always matter how many you score as much as when you score.
That fact wasn’t lost upon Matt Hamor, the Panther’s four-year starting defenseman and two-year captain. Popping in goals wasn’t his forte; popping opposing forwards and getting the puck out of his own end was. But when the lights were brightest, Hamor knew how to rip the twine at the other end of the ice.
After scoring just one regular season goal, the thickly-bearded Hamor doubled that total with tallies in both the North final and state final. He used an opposing blue liner as a screen and snapped home a shot from the right circle in the Panthers’ 9-1 North final demolition of Tewksbury; then, on Sunday night, he crashed the net, positioned himself at the far post and jammed in Nick Albano’s rebound shot for a power play goal in the second period.
If this is indeed the end of the road for junior netminder Tim Birarelli — it’s likely he’ll attend a prep school in the fall and repeat his junior year — then the future Division 1 college keeper will have posted the best numbers between the pipes in Panther history.
Consider: Birarelli has gone 46-7-3 in his varsity career a 1.53 GAA, a .921 save percentage and 14 shutouts. He holds the Beverly High record for most wins in a season (20), lowest goals-against (0.99 ,as a sophomore), highest save percentage (.943, again as a sophomore), most shutouts in a season (7), career wins, career GAA, career save percentage and career shutouts. He did not lose a home game over the final two seasons.
Looking at strictly the past two seasons, Birarelli’s numbers are even more eye-popping: 34-2-2, 1.15 GAA, .935 save percentage and a dozen shutouts.
Folks, that right there is the greatest goaltender to ever don the Orange-and-Black.
In the aftermath of their title-clinching victory, Gilligan and several of his players made sure to give respect to one of their biggest rivals, Danvers High. It was the Falcons who pushed Beverly to the limit in the North quarterfinals before the top-seeded Panthers prevailed, 2-1, in a shootout.
“My favorite part of the season was definitely beating Danvers. It (got) us over the hump,” senior left wing J.J. Bachini said.
“Through the year, we kept talking and taking it one game at a time. And after that Weymouth game (Beverly’s lone loss in the regular season finale), coach reiterated that we need to focus on the task at hand and to move on past the first round, beating our rivals and the last team to ruin our playoff hopes (from the previous season). It was the most satisfying and best part of the year — with winning the state championship right on its heels.”
Bachini said actually being able to refer to his team as ‘state champions’ hasn’t hit him entirely. “But it will hit us full force at our banquet and when we get our rings,” he said.
The career point totals of Beverly’s 10 graduating seniors:
Irving will leave BHS as the school’s all-time leader in assists (122) and points (196) to go along with 74 goals. He’s followed by fellow center Graham Doherty, who will take 42 goals, 34 assists and 76 points with him.
Right wing Jake Straw (25-25-50), left wing Ryan Santo (15-27-42), Hamor (13-23-36), center Kevin Lally (12-19-31), defenseman Jack Morency (4-19-23), J.J. Bachini (8-23-31) and captain Sean Munzing (0-16-16)
In addition, backup goaltender Bryce Mitchell was excellent when called upon over the last three seasons, going 8-2 with a 1.18 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and four shutouts.
The Panthers, who had a police escort when they got back to Beverly Sunday night, finished the season with 108 goals and allowed a mere 29; that +89 goal differential is far and away the best in program history.
Continuing a postseason string of dominance, the Panthers were again big winners in the faceoff circle Sunday night. They lost only 12 of 41 draws against the Warriors, meaning they gaining possession on 71 percent of them. Doherty was particularly hot on the dot, winning eight of nine faceoffs over the final two periods and 12-of-16 for the game.
Irving’s game-winning goal against Medfield was his fifth of the season, which not only led his team but also the entire North Shore in 2013-14. Doherty had four GWGs; junior right wing Jesse MacLaughlin finished with three; Santo had a pair; and seven Panthers — Albano, Hamor, Straw, Bachini, Lally, and sophomore forwards Hunter Spencer and Ross Wahl — had one each.
A dozen players had at least one point during Beverly’s four-game postseason sprint to the state title. Irving led the way with eight goals and two goals; Nick Albano had a team-high nine assists and also finished with 10 points.
The only other player with multiple playoff goals was Hamor (2). He was one of four Panthers who had three postseason points, joining Bachini, Doherty (3 assists) and MacLaughlin. Straw and junior left wing Teddy Leathersich each went 1-1-2 in the state tournament; Lally and junior right wing Brenden Boyle both had one goal; and Morency contributed one assist.
As a team Beverly had 17 ginos, 27 apples and 44 postseason points. All told, the season totals were 108 goals, 168 assists and 276 points. The only two snipes that don’t count towards those totals were shootout scores by Albano and Irving against Danvers.
By period, the Panthers outscored their foes 28-11 in the first period, 49-11 in the middle stanza and 31-7 over the final 15 minutes of play.
Rarely deviating from rolling out three lines consistently all season, that didn’t change for Beverly against Medfield. The top trio of Santo-Irving-MacLaughlin took 21 shifts in the title game; the second line of Leathersich-Doherty-Boyle had 18; and the Bachini-Lally-Straw threesome hopped over the boards 16 times.
All told this postseason, Beverly spent 86:39 leading their opponents. The Panthers were tied for 100:33 and behind for only 5:28 seconds of play.
In fact, this postseason the Panthers have held the lead for 74:40 and been tied for 68:42 in addition to their 5:28 of time behind. Interestingly, out of that 68:42 of time tied, 56:31 came in the first-round game against Danvers.
This brings the total number of state championship sports from Beverly High to seven. The hockey squad joins golf, gymnastics, boys lacrosse, swimming, football and girls track as those who reached the pinnacle of their sport in a particular season.
One of the favorite memories we’ll take away from Championship Sunday: taking place about 45 minutes before the game began: Gilligan wandered the hallway outside his team’s locker room on the third floor at the TD Garden, taking his time to soak in the murals of Boston Bruins greats of yesteryear painted on the walls. He was completely at peace and enjoying the moment to himself, confident that his team was as ready as it could be for the biggest game of his life.
And as is usually the case when it comes to hockey matters, Gilligan was right.