LYNN-- All hat tricks are not created equal.
Beverly winger Julia Nearis has plenty of multi-goal games to choose from early in her varsity career, but you can bet the house that none were bigger than the hat trick she netted at the Connery Rink Saturday night.
Behind three goals from their eighth grade phenom and 17 saves from goalie Madison Jalbert, the Panthers beat the defending state champion Spartans, 3-2.
Tied at two deep into the third, Nearis got a breakaway when the puck skipped out of the Beverly zone. She faked and scored on the backhand with 5:25 to play for the winning goal, as Beverly stayed perfect at 9-0-0 and earned their first win over St. Mary’s, the gold standard in Massachusetts girls hockey.
“It’s always amazing to get a hat trick but the big players come out in the big games and Julia sure proved that tonight,” said Nicole Woods, a captain who assisted on all three Nearis tallies.
“We’d been waiting for this game all season. There was so much adrenaline and jitters before the game. Every time St. Mary’s tied it, we knew we had to keep the intensity up. We knew we couldn’t let them take it from us.”
The Spartans (6-2-2) played well in front of their excellent goaltender, Boxford native Lauren Skinnon. She collected 25 saves and only gave up goals on odd-man rushes: two Nearis breakaways and another 2-on-1 where Nearis sold a pass to open up a shooting lane and buried the puck.
“We knew coming in that they like low scoring games,” said Beverly coach Brian Seabury. “We said it was all about patience, biding our time and doing the little things. We had to make the most of our opportunities because she’s one of the top goalies in the state and by all rights she played that way.”
Beverly led 1-0 after one while St. Mary’s cashed in on a power play goal by Katie Terban midway through the second. Nearis’ 2-on-1 goal gave the Panthers the lead back, but the Spartans’ Maggie Flaherty finished with 1:11 left in the frame to make it 2-2.
The Panthers had the better of the play in the third, outshooting the hosts 9-4 in the final period. They possessed the puck, kept it deep and kept their feet moving, and in the process remains one of only two unbeaten teams in Division 1 along with Duxbury.
“Their experience. They have a lot of talent,” St. Mary’s coach Frank Pagliuca said, asked what puts Beverly among the contending girls teams this year. “I thought their goalie played really well and they finished their opportunities. We didn’t generate enough pressure and a lot of that had to do with Beverly; they outworked us.”
Jalbert, an eighth grader, was her team’s best penalty killer with some great stops while the Spartans had Beverly hemmed in on two man-advantages. She made an outstanding pad stop on Terban with under a minute to play. Defensemen Caitlin McBride, Anna Hayden and Rachel Spencer also played well in front of her.
Nearis now has 29 goals on the season, which leads the state and ties Beverly’s single-season record with Rachel Konaxis, who netted 29 in 2006. Woods’ 29 assists so far this year are a new BHS record for one season.
“Julia has such quick hands, we know we can look for her and she’s gone,” said Woods. “We knew we had to keep going to the net, because their goalie doesn’t give up much. To get three goals was huge.”
As a five-time state champion, St. Mary’s always has a bullseye on its back. Beverly, which stepped into the state’s elite with a 17-win season last year and beefed up their non-league schedule this winter to try to improve. Saturday’s game was one of them, and the Panthers were satisfied to play well, and win.
“The girls are thrilled. I’m proud of them because they worked hard and they deserved it,” said Seabury. “We said beforehand that it was only game nine, it won’t define us win, lose or tie. We have so much respect for St. Mary’s. It’s a measuring stick for our program and we’d love to someday resemble them.”
The Panthers are back at it today against Andover in a game honoring slain Danvers High teacher Colleen Ritzer. The Warriors are 6-2-1, and Beverly is scheduled to face unbeaten Duxbury (7-0-1, giving up only six goals all year) next Monday as well.
“We’re on a roll,” said Woods. “But we know we can’t just sit back.”