By Phil Stacey
---- — PEABODY — Half of the old barn at the jam-packed McVann-O’Keefe Rink yesterday consisted of Peabody High fans who were delirious with joy. The other half was filled with Beverly High fans who sat in stunned silence.
There was, however, one thing that both fan bases had in common: Everyone seemed to be in disbelief as to what they were actually watching.
But it was no dream; it actually happened.
Scoring five answered goals, the upstart Peabody Tanners pulled off the shocker of the winter season, stunning the previously unbeaten Beverly Panthers, 5-3, in the 26th annual Carlin Cup.
When the final buzzer sounded, Peabody’s players bounded off their bench and sprinted toward goaltender Joe Powers. The senior captain made 31 saves in his final home game for the Tanners (6-11-2), including 13 in a frantic third period.
The game, played annually in memory of “The Father of Peabody High Hockey,” Charlie Carlin, saw his daughter, Janet, present the Peabody captains with the championship Cup after yesterday’s contest.
It was an upset of seismic proportions; the hosts had but five wins on the season coming into the game, while the Garden City visitors (now 15-1-1) had only given up as many as three goals in a game once the entire season.
“Words can’t describe it ... the whole team is ecstatic,” Peabody captain Matt McIsaac, whose goal with 69 seconds to play in the first period got his team on the board and sliced into Beverly’s 2-0 lead. “To win this (Carlin Cup) game against one of the best teams in the state is just unbelievable.”
Peabody’s top line of Mike Vadala centering Andrew “Biscuits” Bisconti and McIsaac combined for three goals and four assists. The speedy Vadala, who had a monster game with a goal and three helpers, scored a shorthanded tally when he snuck through the slot off a hard forecheck, took a pass from Bisconti and roofed a shot glove side over Beverly’s Bryce Mitchell (16 saves), tying the score at 2-2 in the second.
But it was the Tanners’ third line — specifically sophomore left wing Ryan Carney — who snapped home the eventual game-winner, giving his team a 4-2 lead with just 9:47 remaining.
“I think once they started feeling comfortable playing, they were OK,” said Peabody head coach Mark Leonard of his Tanners. “They were all over us for most of the first period, but (McIssac’s) goal late in the period had them believing. And then Mikey tying it up in the second period was just huge.”
“I’m sure they didn’t expect a team like us to take them down,” Bisconti added.
The Northeastern Conference North champion Panthers seemed to realize too late that Peabody was, in fact, capable of winning this game. The Orange-and-Black had taken the lead just 16 seconds in when captain Andrew Irving converted a feed from his cousin Connor after an offensive zone turnover, and they doubled that advantage six minutes later when junior center Graham Doherty whacked a second chance rebound under Powers’ left pad.
But when Peabody showed they weren’t going to fold, then tied and eventually took the lead in the third period, the Panthers became uncharacteristically sloppy and rushed plays, rather than setting up and letting them develop. They also went just 1-for-7 on the power play, with Connor Irving scoring with just 62 seconds to play and the outcome virtually decided by that point.
“We’ve been on Easy Street for a while and, aside from Danvers, haven’t had many tests in a while where we found ourselves in a tough spot,” said Beverly head coach Bobby Gilligan. “Give Mark and his staff all the credit in the world; their kids were well-prepared, and they played a great game. They deserved to win.
“We certainly didn’t come out in the right frame of mind to play,” added Gilligan, whose team is right back at it tonight with a contest in Winthrop. “We didn’t beat them to the puck, and I saw too many individual and discipline-type things I didn’t like. We’re just going to have to look at things and see what we can do to fix our mistakes. It’s how you deal with these bumps in the road that determine what kind of team you really are.”
Tied 2-2 after two stanzas, most in the crowd figured Beverly would come out blazing and retake the lead. But instead it was Peabody that sent their momentum through the roof when Bisconti buried a 2-on-1 rush out front. A little less than five minutes later, Carney made it 4-2 when he knocked a loose puck home at Mitchell’s glove side. Reed Foster and defenseman Cam Smullen assisted on the play.
Beverly pulled Mitchell with two minutes to go before the Tanners got the next faceoff and Eric Hennessey slid an empty-netter into the Panthers’ cage from center ice.
“For Matt (McIsaac) and the seniors, what a way for them to go out (at home),” Bisconti said. “And for us juniors and the younger guys, what a shot of momentum this is for us heading into next year.”
Added McIsaac, “The seniors set three goals before the season began: beat Winthrop, Beverly and Danvers. We’ve done two — and we’ve got Danvers (tomorrow at the Newburyport Bank Classic). We just hope we can keep it going.”
WHAT IS THE CARLIN CUP? The Carlin Cup is played each year at the McVann-O'Keefe Rink in Peabody to honor the man who began Peabody High School hockey back in 1947, Charlie Carlin. The uncle of Peabody assistant coach Bo Tierney, Carlin coached the Tanners from 1947-72, led them to 17 winning seasons and a North Shore Hockey League title in 1952. (Carlin also helped start the NSHL). The game itself, first played in 1987, is held at the end of the season. Peabody played neighboring rival Bishop Fenwick (coached during that time by Tierney) for the first 24 years of the Carlin Cup; the Tanners won the last 10 meetings in a row and held a 13-11 edge in the series. In 2012, Peabody started a new tradition against Northeastern Conference rival Beverly High; they have now split their first two meetings. Carlin's daughter, Janet, presents the Cup to the winning team at the end of the game each year.