SALEM — The greatest victory for the Beverly High hockey team didn’t even happen on the ice during its season opener Saturday evening.
Make no mistake, the Panthers looked terrific in carving up Weymouth, 6-1, at the Rockett Arena. In a season that may very well be the most highly anticipated in program history the Orange-and-Black didn’t disappoint, using their depth, talent and skating ability to take command early on and roll to victory.
But the true symbol on this night of overcoming the odds, defying conventional wisdom and looking an adversary — in this case, cancer — square in the face and shaving ice chips all over it was the man they call Bobby.
Head coach Bob Gilligan, now exactly two years into his battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, was a surprising and inspirational figure behind the BHS bench Saturday night. It was originally thought that, after his latest round of aggressive chemotherapy, that he might be able to join the Panthers again sometime in new year, perhaps mid-January.
But in what family and friends have come to know as ‘typical Bobby’ fashion, he refused to let this dreaded disease dictate what, or when, he’d be back doing what he loves. He showed up at the rink unannounced last Monday for practice, kept going back all week and was ready for the first puck of the season to drop for real Saturday night.
“He’s an inspirational figurehead to every single one of us in the program,” said Beverly High assistant Paul Munzing. “Just him being around lifts everyone up. And he’s not just hanging around, either; he’s coaching.”
Stationed behind the home team bench with assistant coaches Justin and Ryan Shairs, Gilligan looked comfortable and completely in his surroundings. He barked out orders, broke down plays on the bench and treated this game no differently than any of the other 185 or so he’s coached over the last 10 years.