SALEM — Bob Gilligan had an inkling much earlier than most people of just how special of a hockey player Connor Irving would grow up to be.
The Beverly High hockey coach knew Irving long before he became the school’s all-time leading scorer Saturday afternoon in a 5-2 victory over Danvers. As Irving’s godfather, Gilligan was there from the beginning and could see the passion the boy had for the game, the hard work that he put into it to make himself better and the obvious skills that he possessed.
So when Irving broke into the offensive zone in the second period Saturday and took a feed in the slot from linemate Jesse MacLaughlin, the senior captain instinctively did what he’s done better than anyone in the proud history of Beverly High hockey: he dished it right back to him, thus assisting on MacLaughlin’s one-time goal. It was the 173rd point of Irving’s four-year Panther career, breaking the old mark of 172 held by former BHS great Roger LeBlanc Jr (who played from 1996-99).
“It was hard not to think about beforehand, obviously, but once the game began I was just focused on doing what needed to be done to get us the win,” said Irving, now the proud owner of 64 goals and 109 assists in his varsity career. No other Panther has ever had as many as 100 career assists.
“This record is really nice, but no way I do it without my linemates and guys like (former teammates) my cousin (Andrew Irving) and Brenden (Mitchell). I get them the puck and they get me the puck, and I’m fortunate to have gotten a lot of points that way.”
Irving, the North Shore’s leading scorer with 32 points in 14 games, had two assists in Beverly’s (13-0-1) win while senior classmate Graham Doherty had a pair of goals, his 11th and 12th of the season. J.J. Bachini and Ryan Santo both had a goal and an assist in the win; Ross Wahl and defenseman Nick Albano each had two assists; and goaltender Tim Birarelli stopped 17 shots as the Orange-and-Black improved to 7-0 in Northeastern Conference North play.