BOSTON — One of the greatest players in Beverly High hockey history scored the biggest goal in program history last night — and with it gave the Panthers their long-awaited ultimate prize.
Senior captian Connor Irving’s third period goal was the game-winning tally as the Beverly Panthers captured their first state hockey championship, outlasting a terrific Medfield squad, 2-1, before an estimated 8,000 fans at TD Garden.
Junior goaltender Timmy Birarelli played arguably the best game in his three-year Beverly High career in stopping 25 of 26 shots, including Medfield's final attempt just moments before the final horn sounded.
"Scoring the game-winning goal in the Garden in my last game against Medfield is like ... it's something you dream about. It's awesome," said Irving. "It's the best way to go out."
"This was their goal to win the state title; they're fighters and they compete," said Beverly head coach Bobby Gilligan, whose team completed the greatest season in program history with a 22-1-1 record.
"We told them before the third period, 'We've got 15 minutes left. This is it.' And they went out, put in the effort and got it done."
Irving, who graduates as Beverly’s all-time leading scorer with 196 points, scored his 8th goal of the playoffs, 24th of the season, 74th of his four-year varsity career ... and undoubtedly the biggest one of his life.
With 12:47 to play in the third period, Irving corralled a shot attempt from Nick Albano and threw a backhand on net to the left of Medfield goaltender Dan Graham. The puck hit a Warrior defenseman in the crease who was trying to whack it out. Instead, the puck got knocked over the goal line, giving Beverly a 2-1 lead.
The goal was originally credited to junior right wing Jesse MacLaughlin, who was stationed at the far post and took a swipe at the puck in the crease. But replays showed it clearly went off a Medfield player before crossing the blue goal line, so the tally went to the last Beverly player to touch it, Irving.
"No, I didn't touch it," admitted MacLaughlin, laughing in the hallway outside his team's joyous locker room postgame.
"I think Nick tried to shoot it and I got it on my backhand, threw it at the net and I just saw it go in," said Irving. "At that point, who cares whose it was? I looked at Jesse and said, 'I don't care if it's mine or yours; let's try to get another one so we can play more loose.' But we held on to that one (goal lead), thanks to Timmy."
Medfield tried desperately to tie the game for the remainder of third period and had several strong chances in and around the Beverly goal mouth. But Birarelli and his defensemen — senior captains Sean Munzing and Matt Hamor, junior Nick Albano and senior Jack Morency — were up to the task every time.
"It was just about stopping anything that came near Timmy," said Morency, who won a Super Bowl with Beverly's football team at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough as a junior, and is now a hockey state champion after winning at the Garden.
"It was a matter of an outstanding job by the defense letting their goalie see the puck, and he made the saves," said Medfield (18-4-3) coach Toby Carlow. "They did a great job keeping us away from (Birarelli)."
Medfield became just the second team all season to outshoot Beverly, 26-19. Five of those shots came in the final 151 seconds of play.
"The last two-and-a-half minutes was my favorite part of the game -- because I love to battle and make big saves," said Birarelli. "Those two-and-a-half minutes will probably stay with me forever."
"We couldn't have done it without Timmy," added Irving. "You (could) see it, though; he got in that zone like goalies do. He was following the puck the whole time. I was watching on the replays every time he saved it; unbelievable.
Beverly's second line of senior center Graham Doherty and wingers Teddy Leathersich and Brendan Boyle (both juniors) had their best game of the playoffs, constantly hemming in the Warriors in their own end with a tight forecheck and winning the majority of the faceoffs their line took. The checking unit of Jake Straw, Kevin Lally and J.J. Bachini didn't allow the Orange-and-Black to skip a beat when they were on the Garden ice, buzzing around in all three zones.
After a scoreless first period in which both teams played cautiously, Beverly got onto the scoreboard first on the game's only power play when Hamor tipped Albano’s shot from the right point past Graham at 2:25 of the second. It was Hamor’s third goal of the season.
Undaunted, Medfield came back immediately and tied the score 22 seconds later when senior Justin Hirschfeld jammed home a rebound in traffic in front of Birarelli. It was the first time Beverly had allowed a goal after the first period in their four playoff games this winter.
"All that hard work in the third period ... they paid their dues and got it done. I'm so happy for them," said Gilligan.
Beverly 2, Medfield 1
Division 2 State Championship
at TD Garden, Boston
Medfield: 0 1 0 — 1
Beverly: 0 1 1 — 2
First period: No scoring.
Second Period: B, Matt Hamor (Nick Albano, Connor Irving), ppg, 2:35; M, Justin Hirschfeld (Pat Lawler, Matt Treiber), 2:47.
Third Period: B, Irving (Albano), 2:13.
Saves: M, Dan Graham 17; B, Tim Birarelli 25.
Records: M, 18-4-3; B, 22-1-1.