By Matt Williams
---- — SALEM — The Beverly High hockey team has loftier goals this winter than a conference win in December. Nevertheless, the Panthers will take some time to enjoy a 7-0 victory over Saugus at the Rockett Arena.
Junior Connor Irving went over 100 points for his career with a goal and three assists and Beverly (2-0) won for the 12th time in its last 13 outings dating back to last season.
That one loss, of course, was to Saugus in overtime in the first round of the Division 2 North tournament last year. Coming out on the right side of a seven-goal game against the Sachems certainly helps scab over that wound.
“We’re still a young team, but people know about us now,” said Beverly head coach Bob Gilligan. “We have to bring it every night.”
The Panthers did that last night, and like an ace pitcher who gets important outs sophomore goaltender Tim Birarelli made the clutch saves when he needed to. With Beverly ahead 2-0 in the first and 3-0 after two, the netminder was called on to make several game-changing stops, including a mini-breakaway on Saugus’ Steve Kay.
“He made three or four spectacular saves. Had Saugus (0-1) scored on any of those, they would’ve had a taste and who knows how the game goes,” Gilligan said of his goalie, who had 16 saves for his first shutout of the year. “I don’t think Tim felt he was at his sharpest in that playoff game last year, so he really wanted to play well in this one.”
Beverly scored four times in the final 7:22 of the third, including three goals in the last 4:21, to blow the game wide open.
Senior Andrew Irving (goal, three assists) opened the scoring in the first, fed by cousin Connor, shortly after Birarelli made a nice save on a Saugus 3-on-1 rush. Captain Matt Hamor then potted a rebound of a low Nick Albano shot on the power play to make it 2-0 after one.
The Panthers padded their lead with another rebound tally, this one off the stick of Ryan Santo. A fortuitous bounce created a 2-on-1 for the Irvings, and their linemate was there to bury the rebound.
Beverly got two more dirty goals off the sticks of Jack Morency and captain Tom Lingren in the third — the type of tenacious work in front of the cage that was especially pleasing for Gilligan.
“Those are the kinds of goals you need to win games like this,” the coach said. “I actually thought at time we kept the puck on our sticks for too long and tried to do too much. I liked those rebound goals.”
For Connor Irving, the NEC North’s MVP last season who began his third varsity campaign with 96 career points, the sweetest of his four points in this night had to be his third period goal. The junior pivot began the year with four straight assists and came frustratingly close to scoring several times in the second.
His one-time blast on a feed from cousin Andrew gave him 101 career points. He’s now the 11th member of the Beverly High century club.
Beverly more than held its own in the physical department, with several bone crunching hits by Morency and Hamor.
“Saugus is Saugus. You know its going to be tough like that against them,” said Gilligan, who would’ve liked to see his team take a few less penalties.
Still, Beverly was a perfect 7-for-7 on the penalty kill. Junior forward Kevin Lally drew a lot of duty in man-down situations and impressed with his sense and tenacity.
“That’s a kid that did a great job,” said Gilligan. “He really read the plays well and he was able to clog up a lot of things for them.”
Saugus goalie Anthony Allan made 26 saves in his first start of the season and kept his team in the game with 12 second period stops. Beverly asserted itself in the second by outshooting Saugus 13-2, then really took command with the four third period tallies.
Brenden Boyle scored Beverly’s last goal while Clinton Cabral, Teddy Leathersich, Jesse McLaughlin went home with assists.