By Phil Stacey
---- — 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.
“Connor’s always had good instincts; he got those from his father,” said Gilligan, whose team has outscored its foes 66-17 so far this winter. “He’s also an extremely intelligent player and knows where to be, where other guys should be, and sees plays develop before they actually do.”
Missing two of their regulars — junior center Sean Lundergan and top-4 defenseman Jon Milne, a senior — the Falcons (6-8) were hurting in the depth department Saturday as their top defense pairing of Steven Ganley and Ryan Cassidy were forced to play major minutes, as were the team’s top two lines. A deeper, faster Beverly squad simply wore them down, although to the Falcons’ credit they picked it up and played their best period in the third, refusing to back down even for a shift.
Junior forward Kyle Cahill, one of Danvers’ better all-around players on Saturday, was rewarded for his hard work on a third period shift by knocking home his second goal of the season, with Trevor Daly and Ryan Buchanan assisting. Earlier, the team’s three captains combined to score as Matt Flynn jammed in a shot at the near post to cut the Falcons’ deficit at the time to 2-1, with Kevin Hodgkins and Jay Calcagno earning helpers.
“The goal against Beverly is to make it tough and try to slow them down. But they took it to us in the second period; that’s where they took the game over,” said Danvers Kevin Brown, whose team needs eight points in its final six games to qualify for postseason play.
“I’ve seen a lot of really talented players over the years, and Irving’s right there. It starts with his speed and he’s got a nose for the puck — and he’s really dangerous when he’s out there and they’re a man down. He’s someone who’s earned every point he’s gotten.”
Eighth-grader goaltender Yegor Bulblik got in for the final 1:08 for Danvers, replacing starter Alex Taylor and stopping the only shot that came his way.
CONNOR IRVING YEAR-BY-YEAR Season G-A-Pts. 2010-11 11-27-38 2011-12 24-34-58 2012-13 15-30-45 *2013-14 14-18-32 TOTALS 64-109-173 * -- So far this season