By Phil Stacey
---- — WOBURN — Thirty-eight times over the last 59 years has the Danvers High hockey team tasted victory in the postseason.
Few, if any, of those wins ever felt as satisfying, well-earned and utterly remarkable as last night’s historic triumph.
Huge underdogs against a Beverly team it had not defeated in almost four years, the Falcons got a goal from senior left wing A.J. Couto with 11 seconds to play last night to stun the top-seeded Panthers, 4-3, before a jam-packed house at the O’Brien Rink.
Couto, who finished with a hat trick for the second straight playoff game, grabbed the puck off the back boards after a Kevin Anderson shot attempt, fired a shot of his own at a bad angle and watched as it went off the back skate of Beverly goaltender Tim Biarelli and into the net.
When the final buzzer sounded and the Blue-and-White pulled off perhaps the biggest upset of the North Shore winter sports season, the Falcons piled onto sophomore goaltender Alex Taylor (22 saves) as celebrated along the far boards near their fan base as if they had won the state championship.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” said Couto, who bagged his 22nd, 23rd and 24th goals of the season last night. He has eight points in two playoff games thus far for the eighth-seeded Falcons (12-6-4).
“I saw go off (Biarelli’s) skate ... I didn’t have much of an angle, but I just threw it on net to see what would happen.”
Danvers, which was shut out for five straight periods by the Panthers this season before netting two third period goals in their last meeting, scored within the first minute of both the first and second periods (with Couto scoring both). The Falcons led 2-1 after one period and never buckled after watching a 3-1 advantage in the second period disappear, thanks to a pair of pretty goals from Beverly third liner Nate MacLaughlin.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” admitted Beverly head coach Bob Gilligan. “Give Danvers credit; they played hard and were certainly ready for us. They took it to us in the first period and part of the second; we didn’t get off to the start we hoped for.
“I think (Danvers) had something to prove, which might have given them a little more of an edge.”
It was the first time any of Danvers’ seniors had ever beaten Beverly; they were beaten twice during the regular season by the Northeastern Conference North champions.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable,” said Anderson (a career high 4 points, including a goal) outside the Falcons’ locker room as one of their post-game song rituals, the pulse-pounding ‘Tubthumping’, blared inside. “We’ve struggled with them for years, so in the biggest game of our lives on the biggest stage we finally beat them. It’s surreal.”
Danvers now moves on to the Division 2 North semifinals for the first time in eight seasons, where it will meet Concord-Carlisle (12-8-2) Monday at the Chelmsford Forum. The Patriots defeated Watertown, 2-1, last night.
“Certainly in a state tournament game, your energy and focus is raised up quite a bit,” said a composed Danvers coach Kevin Brown after the game. “But it’s being able to put in all together that really matters. We were able to do that right off the bat tonight.”
A turnover in the Beverly zone saw Danvers take a quick 1-0 lead after Anderson whipped a pass to Couto all alone out front and he beat Biarelli cleanly. The Panthers responded quickly, with junior captain Connor Irving tying the game with a power play goal, a slapshot from the right circle through traffic. Nick Albano and Andrew Irving earned assists on the tally.
The Panthers could never impose their will, as they had done to so many opponents this winter, on Danvers this night, however. The blue-clad Falcons stuck with their game plan of forechecking, playing the body at every turn and projecting confidence at all times, and eventually took the lead back when Anderson scored his first goal of the season, a slapshot from the left point that he roofed late in the first period.
“We didn’t sit back and let them attack us,” said Anderson. “We were the ones doing the attacking.”
Couto, on a great play set up by Rob Buchanan, knocked in a rebound 42 seconds into the middle frame for a 3-1 Danvers lead, but a pair of MacLaughlin goals, with both assisted by linemates Ted Leathersich and Ryan Santo — before the period ended knotted things up at 3-3.
“When they tied it, there was no panic,” said Brown. “The guys all believed what we were doing was working and that they could get it done.”
Beverly controlled the third period (which was much less run-and-gun than the first two), pelting 10 shots on Taylor without giving up a single one until Couto won it with 11 ticks left on the clock.
“It’s part of life and part of high school sports,” said Gilligan of the upset loss that the Orange-and-Black were dealt, “but our kids had a great season, and that can’t be taken away. It’s so tough to beat another team three times, especially one you know so well and where they know you so well. It’s been a tremendous year for us; it just didn’t end the way we hoped.”
agateHed:Danvers 4, Beverly 3
agate_boldCentered:Division 2 North quarterfinals
at O’Brien Rink, Woburn
agate_lineQuarters:Danvers@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: 2 1 1 — 4
agate_lineQuarters:Beverly@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: 1 2 0 — 3
agate_lineQuarters:First period@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: D, A.J. Couto (Kevin Anderson), :38; B, Connor Irving (Nick Albano, Andrew irving), ppg, 2:56; D, Anderson (Jonathan Milne, Kevin Hodgkins), 12:04.
agate_lineQuarters:Second Period@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: D, Couto (Anderson, Rob Buchanan), :42; B, Nate MacLaughlin (Ted Leathersich, Ryan Santo), 1:54; B, N. MacLaughlin (Santo, Leathersich), 12:39.
agate_lineQuarters:Third Period@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: D, Couto (Anderson, Joe Strangie), 14:49.
agate_lineQuarters:Saves@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: D, Alex Taylor 22; B, Tim Biarelli 16.
agate_lineQuarters:Records@SportsLocalAgate:agate_lineQuarters:: D, 12-6-4; B, 18-2-1.