By Matt Williams
---- — GLOUCESTER — The championship of the 6th annual Cape Ann Savings Bank Holiday Tournament was a game of opportunity: Beverly made the most of theirs and goalie Tim Birarelli made sure Marblehead couldn’t do the same.
As a result, the Panthers skated away with a 4-1 win and their second straight tournament championship.
Leading 2-1 in the second, Beverly took momentum for good in a 20 second span. Marblehead’s Joe Newall came in alone and Birarelli forced him to shoot high, missing the tying goal. At the other end, Connor Irving beat Header goalie Myles Barry with a backhand to give Beverly a crucial two goal advantage.
“This was a tight game right to end, the kind of game that’s good for the kids,” said Beverly coach Bob Gilligan, his team unbeaten at 5-0 and winners of 15 straight regular season contests dating back to last season.
Beverly senior Andrew Irving was named tournament MVP after factoring in all four Beverly scores with a goal and three assists. He had eight points (three goals, five assists) in the two tourney games.
Marblehead (3-2) had several chances to make it a one goal game in the final minute of the third but Birarelli (25 saves) stood tall.
“There was one opportunity with 40 seconds left and I don’t know how he saved it,” said Headers coach Bob Jackson.
Marblehead carried the play for much of the first 30 minutes but had a tough time getting the puck by Birarelli, who made 11 saves in the first and was particularly strong against shots from the high-percentage scoring areas.
“That save at the end? Are you kidding me? We gave Timmy a game puck and he deserved it. He was unbelievable,” Gilligan said.
The Panthers rode stellar special teams play to victory. Beverly got its first goal on a power play tally by Matt Hamor in the first, was a perfect 2-for-2 on the penalty kill and got the game-winner on Andrew Irving’s second shorthanded goal in as many nights in the second.
“Primarily our penalty killers are the Irvings, Kevin Lally and Graham Doherty and they use their sticks very well,” said Gilligan. “You have to be careful when they’re around. Every pass has to be on the money or they can get you.”
That’s exactly what happened soon after Marblehead Dean Fader scoring the tying goal on a nicely executed 2-on-1. The Headers had all the momentum going on the power play, but a careless clear in their own zone saw Connor Irving feed Andrew all alone in front for the short handed winner.
“Those two, No. 22 and No. 7, are so quick. They see that one crack in your armor and they jump on it,” said Jackson.
Connor Irving put the title away for Beverly with an empty netter with 26 seconds left and had three goals and two helpers in two tournament games.
Beverly’s defensemen — Hamor and Nick Albano as well as Jack Morency and Sean Munzing — did a good job making sure the Headers didn’t get rebounds. Birarelli made several in-tight stops on Ian Maag, Tom Koopman and Ty Bates, but the plays ended there.
“Too often our guys without the puck weren’t in spaces to create traffic and rebounds,” said Jackson. “Beverly did a good job keeping us out of those areas, so we have to work harder to make sure our off-forwards get there.”
Cam Rowe picked up an assist on Fader’s goal for Marblehead, which made it 1-1 early in the second.
“Marblehead played very well. I thought they carried the play int he first for sure and for most of the second,” said Gilligan. “That’s a team to be reckoned with.”
The Panthers, already with the lead thanks the opportunistic special teams, had their best period in terms of physicality and puck management in the third.